Christopher Farai Charamba Correspondent
Last week a High Court judge, Justice Priscillah Chigumba, ruled that the demolition of residential properties by the Government and local authorities without a court order was illegal. The ruling was made in the aftermath of the Arlington Estate demolitions where residents had their homes destroyed
because they were built illegally on unsanctioned land.
Earlier this year the Constitutional Court, in a landmark ruling, outlawed child marriages; meaning anyone under the age of 18 could not tie the knot. Such rulings have followed a trend from the previous year when the courts made a number of key rulings relating particularly to the rights of individuals.
The courts last year barred the arrest of women on charges of soliciting for intimacy in the absence of male customers confirming they were offered the service for a fee. This ruling protected women from arbitrary arrest for walking down a street or standing on a corner, resultantly safeguarding sex workers from police harassment.
In yet another judgment of 2015, Justice Hlekani Mwayera protected the rights of children born out of wedlock by ruling that discrimination against them was unconstitutional, a ruling which had a far-reaching effect on the inheritance law.
Despite many in the West arguing that there is no rule of law in Zimbabwe, the courts have shown time and time again that they are impartial and independent. In a constitutional democracy the separation of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary is essential and the judiciary has shown its independence and its dedication to applying the laws of this country and the supreme law – the Constitution.
Zimbabwe is currently undergoing a process of aligning its laws to the 2013 Constitution and through that the courts have been particularly busy guiding the process through various rulings.
While it is commonplace for lawyers and judges to be well versed in the laws and legal jargon, how aware is the proverbial man on the street of the law and his rights? How many ordinary Zimbabweans have touched let alone read the Constitution of the Republic of Zimbabwe?
Civic education is a critical element for every citizen. One is not expected to defend themselves in a court of law but it is prudent for individuals to be well aware of their rights and the legal options they can take should these rights be violated.
The Constitution is the first-stop shop for all citizens. Found within the supreme law of the country are the founding provisions of the country, national objectives and, more importantly, the Declaration of Rights.
Each and every citizen of the State is accorded their rights within the Constitution and knowing these rights is the first step in ensuring that you can seek justice when one’s rights are abused or violated.
For one to know what is in the Constitution they first must have access to it. The same way in which Christians keep a Bible at home, Muslims the Quran and Jews the Torah, a copy of the Constitution should be found in every citizen’s household. Civic education should begin at home and having readily available access to the Constitution is important in ensuring that this happens.
In the founding provisions of the Constitution, Article 7 states: “The State must promote public awareness of this Constitution, in particular by – (a) translating it into all officially recognised languages and disseminating it as widely as possible;
“(b) requiring this Constitution be taught in schools and as part of the curricula for the training of members of the security services, the Civil Service and members and employees of public institutions; and,
“(c) encouraging all persons and organisations, including civic organisations, to disseminate awareness and knowledge of this Constitution throughout society.”
The State has a constitutional obligation to the citizens of Zimbabwe to ensure they are aware and knowledgeable about the Constitution. It is mandatory that the Constitution be taught in schools and to everyone in public service.
While this should be the norm, civic education in Zimbabwe is not as prominent as it should be. The State can begin to change this by mass producing copies of the Constitution and providing them to individuals and families.
The education curriculum, which is currently under a transformation process, should also include a specific, tailor-made programme on civic education for junior school and high school students. By educating children from a young age on their Constitution and their rights it will raise the level of awareness nationwide and contribute to a more active citizenry in the affairs of the State.
According to the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, the 2013 harmonised elections in Zimbabwe saw a 54,38 percent voter turnout up from 42,37 percent in 2008. Despite the improved turnout, the figures should be much higher as every citizen has the right to be heard.
In a democracy, voting is an important right that a citizen has. It is therefore necessary for citizens to be educated on the need to exercise their vote to right especially while they are still young, so that when the time comes they can make better informed decisions.
Aside from the role of the State in ensuring civic education as provided, this is also an avenue for civil society groups.
The citizens themselves should strive to educate each other about their rights to ensure that they are protected from abuse by other citizens or by State apparatuses.
Additionally, the media, which plays a major role in disseminating information, should contribute to interrogating what is in the law and has come from the courts. By engaging experts in the field and simplifying the language, the media can be an important tool in informing people about changes in laws and its interpretation.