Hopewell Chin’ono: How the Tendai Biti case exposed the State and the President

By Hopewell Chin’ono

The Tendai Biti case reminds me of the yesteryear cases prosecuted by Johannes Tomana.

Tendai Biti arrives at the magistrates courts in Harare, Thursday Aug. 9, 2018. Biti was deported to Zimbabwe following his arrest in Zambia after his asylum bid was rejected. Biti’s plight has raised concerns about a wave of repression against the opposition by the government of Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
Tendai Biti arrives at the magistrates courts in Harare, Thursday Aug. 9, 2018. Biti was deported to Zimbabwe following his arrest in Zambia after his asylum bid was rejected. Biti’s plight has raised concerns about a wave of repression against the opposition by the government of Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

They were hopeless at law and he lost all of them each time he came up against Beatrice Mtetwa because there was NO case to start with.

In Beatrice Mtetwa, the prosecutors in this case are up against a ferocious inquisitor who will embarrass not only them but also the political establishment because this case is political.

I am not a lawyer, but one of Biti’s lawyers Alec Muchadehama went to the Law and Order section and asked them if Biti was wanted by them or not and they said he wasn’t wanted.

Why would they then say that he was on the run when they told his lawyers that he was not wanted?

One of his other lawyers Harrison Nkomo wrote to the Chief of police asking if they wanted Biti in connection with any case as was being reported in the press.
Nkomo requested the Chief of Police to let him know if at any point they will want to see Biti adding that the lawyers would bring him to the police if such a request was made.

Tendai Biti arrives at the magistrates courts in Harare, Thursday Aug. 9, 2018. Biti was deported to Zimbabwe following his arrest in Zambia after his asylum bid was rejected. Biti’s plight has raised concerns about a wave of repression against the opposition by the government of Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
Tendai Biti arrives at the magistrates courts in Harare, Thursday Aug. 9, 2018. Biti was deported to Zimbabwe following his arrest in Zambia after his asylum bid was rejected. Biti’s plight has raised concerns about a wave of repression against the opposition by the government of Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Again why then would they say he was on the run when two of his lawyers got in touch with the police and were told that he was not wanted for anything?

This kind of case does nothing but expose the state to be vindictive, pliable and nonchalant to what the law says in pursuit of narrow and parochial political objectives.

It gives flashbacks of the Robert Mugabe days of state persecution through law enforcement agencies where his political adversaries were locked up, stripped of their citizenships or deported out of the country.

Beatrice Mtetwa would know this too well because she too was a victim of the same state sponsored persecution in 2011.

Tendai Biti arrives at the magistrates courts in Harare, Thursday Aug. 9, 2018. Biti was deported to Zimbabwe following his arrest in Zambia after his asylum bid was rejected. Biti’s plight has raised concerns about a wave of repression against the opposition by the government of Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
Tendai Biti arrives at the magistrates courts in Harare, Thursday Aug. 9, 2018. Biti was deported to Zimbabwe following his arrest in Zambia after his asylum bid was rejected. Biti’s plight has raised concerns about a wave of repression against the opposition by the government of Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

The President’s advisors should not have allowed the tweet about his intervention in the Tendai Biti case to be posted. It was a huge political and public relations blunder of monumental proportions.

The judiciary should be independent to make its own decisions without the interference of the executive.

The same applies to the prosecution services, that is why the office of the Prosecutor General is said to be independent in our constitution.

What the President did was in the national interest of the country but he shouldn’t have publicly said so because it will now be used against him especially with Nelson Chamisa’s election case being filed today.

What the president did is not unusual, it happens around the world but they don’t tweet about it, they don’t write about it and make a dance and song about it.

Presidents and Prime Ministers will simply tell anyone who needs to be told about the national and security consequences of not doing something, in this case giving Tendai Biti bail.

The Tendai Biti case will be lost in my view and it will be another unwanted infamous badge of dishonour for the state, its prosecution arm and law enforcement departments.
It will reinforce the narrative that very little has changed since November 2017.

Emmerson Mnangagwa and his engagement team led by S.B. Moyo had done a lot of work since November in trying to pull Zimbabwe out of the abyss.
In a moment of madness, all that was lost with one disaster after the other inside a mere seven days.

The problem is that Zimbabwe is a fragile state on most definitions, and you don’t get to go from decades of autocracy to ‘Sweden’ in 9 months.

There is going to be blood-soaked turbulence as many players fight for survival and gain and blunder through incompetence, chaos or malice.

The important question is what is the direction of travel that we are taking and is it sustainable in the mid to long term?
Almost everywhere in Africa there is a bloody mess of some sort, but Zimbabwe is in the situation of being on the permanent naughty-step courtesy of ZIDERA and the Zimbabwean hardliners.

It needs an explicit decision to come off that naughty step and you don’t do that by repeating the very things that put you there in the first place.
We must learn from the past and not repeat the same mistakes.

Tendai Biti sometimes goes out of his way to say some really crazy things. That is who Tendai Biti is, human beings are not perfect.

However, when you are running a state as ZANUPF is doing, you don’t allow personal fights to be determined and settled through state organs.
Running the state means that you must have a thick skin and a realization that there is a huge state empire in your hands that must be attended to like the economy, business, industry and investment.

Tendai Biti’s case and how it was handled affects the growth of all those things because whether you like him or hate him, he is the only Zimbabwean politician who is lauded and respected in Washington DC.

Zimbabwe needs DC to unlock its jaws from the financial door that was slam locked more than a decade ago.
Now if you know that you won’t succeed without DC’s help, why bring unnecessary negative attention to yourself with avoidable misdemeanours?

Tendai Biti’s case is equal to cutting off the nose to spite your face when you are in the middle of a crisis as this country is.
There is nothing to be gained except for hardliners who don’t want to see the democratization process of the state because it will mean that there will be transparency that will stop them from looting the state.

The deeper the president allows this crisis to fester on, the more impossible it will be for him to turn his ship around and the more impossible it will be for ZANUPF to cross 2023 with one million more young people on the 2023 voter’s roll.

The President needs men and women around him who have the professional courage to tell him the truth and to also tell him when things are wrong.

He doesn’t need advisors of the Robert Mugabe ilk who told the old man what he wanted to hear and lied to him that everything was ok when it was not.
Such people will make his Presidency unremarkable, tainted and forever remembered for all the wrong things.

Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning Zimbabwean international Journalist and Documentary Filmmaker.
He is a Harvard University Nieman Fellow and a CNN African Journalist of the year.
He is also a Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Africa leadership Institute.

Hopewell has a new documentary film coming out which is looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe called State of Mind.

Hopewell can be contacted at [email protected] or on twitter @daddyhope