Government has drawn a line in the sand following threats by the main MDC party to roll out a series of protests in order to get President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration to end a full-blown economic crisis that has seen the majority of Zimbabweans living on the margins of poverty.
Since taking over from the party’s founding father, Morgan Tsvangirai — who succumbed to colon cancer in February this year — Nelson Chamisa has proved to be a thorn in the flesh for Mnangagwa’s government, which is desperate to end international isolation.
Having tried unsuccessfully to reverse Mnangagwa’s poll victory through a Constitutional Court (ConCourt) application in August, the 40-year-old MDC leader has put government on notice, saying it must brace for peaceful protests to jolt it into ending the economic meltdown.
This follows the swift deterioration in the country’s economic health, epitomised by massive price hikes, shortages of basic commodities and an acute foreign currency crisis which is forcing companies and individuals to source money on the black market where rates are extremely high.
Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs minister Ziyambi Ziyambi told the Daily News yesterday that government was ready to deal with Chamisa and his followers should they cross what he called “the red line”.
“Chamisa must know that the right to demonstrate is not an absolute right. When you are demonstrating, you must not infringe on other people’s rights. That’s why the police must first interrogate the purpose of the demonstration before giving permission. Rights must come with responsibilities,” he said.
Ziyambi said the same Constitution that guarantees the right to demonstrate also imposes limits to the very rights and freedoms.
He said the fundamental rights and freedoms set out in the supreme law must be exercised reasonably and with due regard for the rights and freedoms of other persons.
“The fundamental rights and freedoms set out in this Chapter may be limited only in terms of a law of general application and to the extent that the limitation is fair, reasonable, necessary and justifiable in a democratic society based on openness, justice, human dignity, equality and freedom, taking into account all relevant factors,” Ziyamba said.
“Chamisa is just barking; we don’t have time to listen to him. We have serious business to do, the economy needs our attention and we cannot listen to Chamisa. We have adequate laws to deal with him if he crossed the line. Now he is talking but the moment he starts to act like head of State, our security are more than ready. We are not going to allow lawlessness,” he added.
Section 59 of the Constitution states that every person has the right to demonstrate and to present petitions, but these rights must be exercised peacefully.
Under Section 86, these fundamental rights and freedoms should be exercised reasonably and with due regard for the rights and freedoms of other persons.
It says the purpose of the limitation, in particular, takes into account whether the action taken is necessary in the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, regional or town planning or the general public interest, among other things.
On Tuesday, Home Affairs minister Cain Mathema said police were on high alert following MDC organising secretary Amos Chibaya’s pronouncements about the demonstrations over the weekend.
In the past, government used to thwart protests and curtail freedoms using section of the Public Order and Security Act (Posa), but that route became untenable last month after the ConCourt overturned Section 27 of the Act, which prohibits demonstrations without prior authorisation from the Zimbabwe Republic Police.
Posa was enacted in 2002, replacing the equally detested Law and Order Maintenance Act (Loma), which was enacted by the Rhodesians before the country’s independence in 1980, to suppress political activism by blacks during the bitter years of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle.
Yesterday, Chibaya hit back at Ziyambi, saying it was the democratic right of every citizen to protest, and that in expressing their displeasure and forcing government to take note of Zimbabweans’ suffering, the country’s largest opposition party was protected by the law.
“In this country nobody is above the law. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It’s the democratic right for each and every disgruntled person to demonstrate. It’s not as if we are going to engage in a violent process, we are going to engage in a peaceful way,” he said.
The MDC, which is disputing Mnangagwa’s victory in the July 30 polls, had tried to reverse the poll outcome in the ConCourt but the application was thrown out by the full bench, headed by Chief Justice Luke Malaba.
Ahead of the harmonised elections, Chamisa’s party demonstrated against the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec)’s conduct of the poll processes.
Sooner after the elections, the party took to the streets to protest delays in the announcement of the presidential results, resulting in the death of at least six people after the army was unleashed on the protestors.
As a result of pressure from the international community, Mnangagwa set up a commission of inquiry which is investigating the killings.
Last month, government came under spotlight after several trade union activists were arrested for attempting to demonstrate against its austerity measures.