By Tinomudaishe Chinyoka
Writing on a microblogging site, I said that I thought a certain goat herder should not be arrested for what he says with his thumbs, but rather be investigated for the more serious allegations made against him, in respect of which he is already building a lot of misdirection towards. I wistfully stated that if only I had been appointed PG, I would have been going after the correct crimes.
The following day, my opponent in an upcoming contest blanketed WhatsApp groups where I am with insults and invective. “Zimuchinja”, this erstwhile G40 acolyte called me. But more sadly: he claimed that criticism against the PG is in fact criticism against the appointing authority.
According to his wisdom, once someone is appointed by the President, that person can do no wrong, and cannot be criticized for not doing their because doing so is criticizing the President for having appointed him.
What a load of hooey! Yes, I have met some rubbish over the years, but this takes the biscuit.
Sadly, this is very common thinking among our people. Daily, we give the corrupt and the incompetent an alibi by passing the buck to their principals.
Our polarized politics requires that we should blame ED Mnangagwa for a Magistrate misapplying bail laws or a PG going after non-crimes just as we must blame Chamisa for the failure by an MDC Alliance Council to collect our refuse. Because our ire is so misdirected, those responsible for failures are left to carry on, with no pressure on them.
Speaking of bail, the debate around the arrests of Job Sikhala and Fadzai Mahere has become so technical that we are all missing the simple point: forget bail, they shouldn’t be prosecuted in the first place! This is nothing about old constitutions and section chakuti, the simple fact is that politicians should never be arrested for political speech, unless such speech incites criminal conduct, in which case you prosecute them for incitement.
Politicians lie. Politicians like to seize the moment and shout to the heavens when they see (or think) their opponent stumble. When lies spread that a child had been killed by a policeman en-forcing lockdown regulations, cool heads looked for people that might have details. Politicians, especially those of the sellout variety, were never going to wait for the the facts to get in the way of their agenda. It wasn’t even the first time.
We saw this when a certain gentleman left home and went for prayers (we have no reason to believe otherwise, despite the obvious). The same voices raised the alarm. Suddenly, his moonlighting as a “journalist” became his identity, a journalist was missing. The same Fadzai Mahere never actually said it, but implied that this journalist might have been abducted by the state for being a journalist. When he showed up, we arrested no one. That is good.
The PG’s job is not to prosecute every case that the police bring to his desk. Some cases he must refuse to prosecute. Especially when we hear that ZACC has given him tens, if not over a hundred, corruption dockets to prosecute. Yet we have seen only a handful prosecuted, and most of those have either stalled or been withdrawn. Why is that? Corruption is the President’s number one enemy, and one he wants tackled.
We know that the President replaced the previous PG because, among other things, he was not happy with the fact that corruption cases were not being prioritized. We also know that so important is the anti-corruption crusade for this President that he expended a lot of political capital to replace the entire ZACC with a new one. In the hope that this none would actually tackle corruption. We also know that prior to removing the previous PG, the President set up as Special Anti Corruption Unit (SACU) in his office in order to fight corruption directly.
It is incongruent that the same anticorruption President would be happy with the opposition bullying tactics of the PG’s office. To believe that he is requires ignoring everything that the President has actually done. It is corruption he wants prosecuted, not people’s thumbs on a platform that is seen by no more than 40,000 active people at best.
Social media commentators are happy to ascribe the PG’s disastrous prosecution policies to the ruling Zanu PF. By their reasoning, Zanu PF is behind these silly prosecutions, because they somehow serve Zanu PF interests.
Nothing could be further from the truth. I have attended many Zanu PF meetings, and not once has there been any discussion to encourage or support the prosecution of nonentities like Joana Mamombe for treason because they posted some silly rant on Facebook. No one in Zanu PF has suggested on a party policy document or platform that we should prosecute Job Sikhala for being vulgar.
Fadzai Mahere is clearly out of her depth as a political party spokesperson, it serves her political opponents better that she be allowed to tie herself in an intricate web of lies and gaffes. You don’t interrupt your opponent when they are making errors.
But instead the PG is giving her political credentials by a prosecution that will result in nothing but an acquittal: there is no crime committed when one lies, and you can’t prove that her lies caused any harm when it’s obvious that no reasonable person believes half the things she says anyway!
And, as if that is not enough, the PG opposes bail against Job Sikhala and Fadzai Mahere, there-by raising their silly prosecution into a political persecution. The principles for bail are simple: you want an accused person to have their liberty as long as you are sure they will attend their trial and not interfere with witnesses.
Even assuming that a crime was committed (it wasn’t, these liars merely lied one more time), what is the reason for wasting taxpayers’ money opposing bail? Do we actually think that a member of parliament and lawyer will skip the country and avoid going to his trial, thereby risking a serious offence that would lead to his disbarment and removal from parliament, just so as to avoid a trial for which the worst that might happen is a small token fine? In Bond notes!
Do we actually think that one of the county’s leading Advocates would skip bail and run away from a crime where she is expected to know that the chances of conviction range between “non-existent” and “whatever you are smoking please give me your dealer’s number”?
And yet the PG did not oppose bail for DJ Biscuit, for Henrietta Rushwaya (at first) and for those armed robbers!
The only beneficiaries of our unthinking prosecutorial policies are the victims. Not Zanu PF. Not the President. Not our constitutional setup. Not our democracy. Only the victims.
In the not too distant past, a non-entity got the right to represent her political party against a more seasoned MP, and people said she got in through bedroom politics. Whether or not this was true is something for another audience, but it’s obvious that because of these allegations, whether true or false, her credibility was always going to be problematic.
But one Facebook post and a stupid ill-advised prosecution later, the world suddenly knew about Joana Mamombe. So that when she and her friends staged a fake flush demo (it’s in the name, they are fake if they are organized and not, eh, flush!) as a precursor to a staged abduction, the world was ready to believe that she was being persecuted. And government’s denials that it had nothing to do with her disappearance ring hollow when we prosecute people for writing nonsense on their social media timelines.
Mahere ran for election against the MDC, and lost. A few strategic meetings with Nelson Chamisa later, she was catapulted to a very senior position in his party with no name.
No serious people were ever going to take her seriously: besides a fake English accent she was never going to be taken seriously as a political force. This is after all the same person who lost an election to a passport photo, and waxed lyrical about how Zimbabwean politics must be run by people from private school not the uncivilized “rurals”.
But, we have now decided to prosecute her for tweeting a lie. It’s not even her first lie: she does this with so much regularity that even her own supporters must have started wondering if the accent was worth the gaffes.
But, a heavy handed and ill-advised prosecution later, we are creating a political force out of someone that was gasping for air in the political arena. Now, we have “government of Zimbabwe sends Cambridge educated advocate to prison for a tweet”.
No matter what you think your facts are, that looks like persecution writ large. This is, after all, a woman that gets invited to tea with the British Ambassador. We are spending millions of money in “re-engagement efforts”, yet we are busy doing this kind of thing?
Public officials can, and should be criticized when they are not acting in our best interests. The state prosecutes criminals in the interests of society. We have people impregnating 14 year olds. We have people accumulating unexplained wealth.
We hear Chombo has 3000 residential stands. We have people openly enjoying the proceeds of corruption. We have RBZ employees with houses that Tiger Woods would be envious of, inconsistent with their salaries. We have public contracts that pay out millions for zero returns. Reward Kangai is perpetually crying about corruption at POTRAZ.
These things, cry out for prosecution. When people voted in favour of the new constitution and the powers it gives to a PG, I am sure they had in mind that this was a role that would see corrupt people prosecuted, no matter who they are or whose name they go around dropping.
But, when we see land barons flouting their wealth (one has fish under her floor in her mansion in a small provincial capital, and the house fence has lights that brighten half the side of a mountain), we have a right to ask: where is the PG?
The answer to that cannot be that his department is busy prosecuting politicians stuck in a nameless party for tweeting lies that no serious person could ever believe anyway. The appointing authority deserves better. Zimbabweans deserve better. And yes, even Job and Fadzai deserve better.
Tinomudaishe Chinyoka is a qualified lawyer and social worker, living in Harare where he practices as an Advocate. He is a member of the ruling Zanu PF. Follow him on @TinoChinyoka