Zimbabwe may have a new Constitution, but old habits still rule quite firmly and will probably die very hard.
More than six months after the new Constitution fully became law, police continue to thwart public expression in form of peaceful marches and protests, using a familiar combination of illegal bans and violent disruptions.
Where marchers have sought for police clearance, before embarking on protest, like Chitungwiza Residents Trust (CHITREST) did, a few days ago, police have denied clearance without reason.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC) Chairperson Dewa Mavhinga said human rights defenders in the country are fast losing faith in the government’s commitment to safeguard the freedom to protest and demonstrate outlined in Section 59 of the new Constitution.
“It means that nothing has changed in terms of the Zanu-Pf government’s attitude towards human rights.
“It shows that we are still a long way to go in terms of the realisation of a democratic Zimbabwe.
“We should not think that the elections last year ushered in a new era,” Mavhinga said.
Mavhinga said it was a sign that civil society must step up efforts to demand a democratic governance culture.
“It presents a challenge for civil society to move more forcefully to demand the implementation of the new Constitution.
“It is a message for civil society to push for a democratic Zimbabwe,” he said.
The new constitution became fully operational in August 2013, with the swearing-in of President Robert Mugabe, for a seventh term since Independent gained in 1980.
Since the adoption of the new Constitution, police have broken up several peaceful marches with brutality; they have often assaulted demonstrators most of them women, leaving them injured and needing to be hospitalised.
On February 15, police assaulted Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) activists, who were peacefully demonstrating at Parliament.
In the same month, police assaulted 12 students belonging to the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) and arrested five civil society leaders from ZIMRIGHTS, CHITREST, CHRA, and CCDZT over peaceful protests.
In late 2013, the police savagely attacked women, who demonstrated at the Hwange Colliery offices for their husbands’ unpaid salaries; some who are reportedly still nursing injuries.
Government demands that protesters should seek police clearance purportedly in line with the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), although the law is clearly in violation of free public expression as espoused by the new constitution and seems to merely mention that demonstrators must notify the police of such protest.
Early this year the Zimrights Director Okay Machisa revealed at a press conference in Harare that police had denied civil society organisations clearance to demonstrate over obscene salaries and tender corruption in state enterprises and parastatals.
Jessie Majome, chairperson of the parliamentary committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs blamed it on the delay by the Zanu-PF led executive to align laws with the new Constitution, which she says has caused uncertainty as police continue to apply old laws which are “unconstitutional”.
“The police are continuing to trample on people’s rights because of this ambiguity.
“They have been holding on unconstitutional powers that they did not even have under the old Constitution, but were actually prohibited by the new Constitution,” Majome said.
Majome further castigated the continued conduct of government business under old laws as “unconstitutional”, calling the whole thing “a constitutional crisis”.
She however suggested that the ruling party benefits from oppressive laws and the current state of affairs.
“It is totally unconstitutional, and strikes a legal blow to the rule of law in the country,” Majome said.
“This government is operating unconstitutionally.
“It is promoting a continued culture of the neglect of the rule of law.
“We see the abnormal becoming normal because Zanu-Pf feels safe with laws that limit citizens’ rights.”