unchained prisoners: WHAT DOES THE NEW POSA BILL MEAN FOR ZIMBABWE?
Over the past couple of days, the Zimbabwean legislature has been making some great changes, very quietly, drawing as little attention to themselves as possible. You will often find that the most arbitrary policies are described in the most complicated way. And when things are complicated people often won’t take the time to dismantle all the intellectual barriers. And where people do not know, they cannot fight. Here is a breakdown of the POSA headlines that have showed up subtly in the media only until today, April 26, 2019.
In 2002 when ZANU-PF dominated parliament, the former president, late John Nkomo and current president became the architects of The Public Order and Security Act (POSA). The Act gave unprecedented power to the police and consolidated the ZANU-PF rule. On the 1st of August 2018, during protests and unrest that followed the very controversial Presidential election, Police Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga invoked section 38 of POSA (requesting the Zimbabwe Defence Forces to assist police to maintain law and order), which resulted in the death and injuries of multiple civilians and did the same in January 2019. Civil Rights Activists have since lobbied for the repeal of this Act because it can only do more harm than good. A commission of inquiry was established to investigate the 2018 shootings and in its final report, the commission suggested that the provisions of POSA should be aligned to the constitution in terms of deploying the military for policing duties. On the 19th of February 2019, the government approved the formulation of the Maintenance of Peace and Order Bill to replace the Public Order and Security Act (POSA). Arguments have suggested that MOPO has been adjusted to fit constitutional standards. Here is what the Bill means in a nutshell:
– the president, rather than the defense minister, authorizes the deployment of soldiers to assist police maintaining law and order
– police officers to stop and without warrant search any person, vehicle or vessel entering or leaving Zimbabwe
– makes it mandatory for every person of or above the age of eighteen years to carry their identity documents on their person when in public. that if a person cannot produce his or her identity document immediately upon being asked for it by a police officer, he must show it at a police station within 7 days, failing which he or she is guilty of an offence. (This is a departure from the criminalizing of failure to produce an ID immediately, which was declared unconstitutional in a 1997 judgment (Bryant Walker Eliot v Commissioner of Police). I found this clause (clause 14) to be incredibly slick.
– the regulating authority has a three-day time frame to respond to a request by a convener of a public meeting.
– People can be jailed/fined for holding a protest without a notice.
– Strictly regulates gathering in the vicinity of parliament and other protected spaces
I find great significance in the emphasis and effort to keep protests away from the political hub where those who oppress us pass time and play with our fate. And one has to question if the country is headed for change like our leaders claim why do they want to chain us down with provisions so susceptible to abuse? There are multiple counties with similar legislation but none in the same plight as Zimbabwe. The Act gives more power to law enforcement and ultimately means those who control the security forces, control the people and the danger of that in a political environment where the leaders have proven to care so little for the people’s safety cannot be stressed enough. As quoted by the Zimbabwe Media Review
the real issue is the absence of political will by the ruling party to protect constitutional rights.
In January 2019, security forces went on a violent crackdown, burning homes and raping women and children. Those injustices have gone without interrogation. Survivors have been ignored, triggered, accused, INCARCERATED and accused of spreading lies. More work has been put into finding ways to silence the people, than actually helping them. We have passed a stage of great concern into absolute terror. Citizens have been deprived financially, mentally, had internet connection shut off from the world for days and now they will be limited physically. The people have been crippled by poverty and economic oppression, while the government continues to grasp at more power to avoid backlash for the moves they know they will continue to make. The justification for brutality displayed by the military was that there had been criminal activity (looting, destruction of public policy, violent rioting), but the criminal elements or definition of any of these crimes does not change or extend in the context of one demonstration. Perpetrators simply could have been arrested to face the consequences of their crimes away from what was obviously political punishment.
Section 67(2) of the Constitution states that:
(a) to form, to join and to participate in the activities of a political party or organisation of their
(b) to campaign freely and peacefully for a political party or cause;
(c) to participate in peaceful political activity; and
(d) to participate, individually or collectively, in gatherings or groups or in any other manner, in
peaceful activities to influence, challenge or support the policies of the Government or any
political or whatever cause.
If it is commonly known that the constitution is the Supreme Law (a constitution that was revisited to include the Bill of Rights which values freedom and dignity) then why the contradiction of legislation that makes movement and exercised of rights so difficult?
What’s best for the citizens of Zimbabwe is that this Bill be repealed. The citizens are in danger and the law is lacking.