A man appeared in court on Tuesday accused of “insulting the president” after posting a video WhatsApp status of a woman criticising a call by President Emmerson Mnangagwa to “pray and fast” for divine intervention against the coronavirus in June.
Victor Majoni, 35, a farm manager in Umguza, allegedly posted the status on June 14 – a 59-second clip of a woman who asked Mnangagwa “what other fasting do you want because Zimbabweans are fasting already, they are hungry in their homes?”
Majoni was shopped to the police by Remigious Komboni the Ward 8 Zanu PF secretary for administration in the Youth League. The two men are both on WhatsApp groups called ‘Umguza Irrigation Lots’ and ‘Umguza Zesa Updates.’
Majoni entered a ‘not guilty’ plea when he appeared before Bulawayo magistrate Shepherd Mjanja charged with “undermining the authority of or insulting the president.”
His lawyer Nqobani Sithole told the court: “The constitution provides for freedom of expression, and whoever designed the post, who is not the accused person, is the one responsible for that content.”
Majoni maintained that the status was uploaded by his nephew.
His lawyer moved for the charges to be quashed at the close of the state case.
After hearing state witness testimony from Komboni and cross-examination by the defence, Mjanja ordered the defence to make written submissions of their application for discharge at the close of the state case by October 19, and the prosecution to file its response by October 22.
Mjanja said he will rule on the matter on November 9 when Majoni finishes writing his examinations at Midlands State University.
Mnangagwa declared June 15 as a ‘Day of Prayer and Fasting’ to seek divine intervention in tackling the coronavirus outbreak.
“I urge you all on this day, to join us giving up one, two or all meals and fasting,” Mnangagwa said in a TV address carried by the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC).
The unnamed woman recorded the video response which appeared on Majoni’s phone as a WhatsApp status.
Speaking in Shona, the woman said Mnangagwa should “put her in conflict with God” – words uttered when one is holding back from swearing in anger.
“What other fasting do you want Mr Mnangagwa? Zimbabweans are fasting already, they are hungry in their homes, not because they want to fast but because they have no food,” the woman ranted.
She also told Mnangagwa to “grow up”, asking: “Do you think before you speak?”
Dozens of opposition activists were arrested during the 37-year presidency of the late former leader Robert Mugabe and charged with “undermining the authority of the President” for allegedly making disparaging remarks about the nonagenarian.
A majority of the cases were dismissed for lack of evidence.
In November 2013, Mnangagwa vainly tried to challenge a Constitutional Court finding that the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act that criminalises the undermining of the authority of the President and communicating falsehoods were in violation of the Constitution.
The Constitutional Court had observed that Section 31(a)(iii) which criminalises publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the State and Section 33(a)(ii) which criminalises undermining the authority of the President had the effect of violating people’s right to freedom of expression and invited Mnangagwa – then the Justice Minister – to justify their existence.
Mnangagwa argued that the laws must stay in the statute books as they were necessary to protect the reputation of the President.
“Is the goal of the protection of reputation of the President and his office a pressing and substantial objective in our society? We submit it is,” he said in an affidavit submitted with the court.
He added: “The protection of the President’s reputation from wilful and false attack recognises both the innate dignity of the individual and the integral link between reputation and the fruitful participation of an individual in society. Preventing damage to reputation as a result of criminal insult and defamation is a legitimate goal of the criminal law.”
The Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act is one of the many laws that must be amended to be brought into conformity with Constitutional Court judgments and the new constitution adopted in May 2013.