Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku has made a very important pronouncement regarding the prosecution of people for insulting the President. He said the National Prosecuting Authority should not clog the court system with trivial utterances between political opponents, which did not reflect the reality on the ground or have no effect on the character of the individual being attacked.
Our support for the Chief Justice’s comments is not based on a simplistic and self-serving interpretation of freedom of expression as enshrined in the Constitution.
We believe in a responsible appreciation of that concept. We believe President Mugabe deserves the greatest respect.
Our worry, however, is founded on the publicity these prosecutions attract. More often, the alleged insults are made in bars or kombis or at political rallies. People laugh them off and forget. However, some overzealous officer tries to take them seriously.
We note with regret that the more such idiots and their cases are brought before the courts for insulting the President, the more publicity they get and the more we trivialise the Office and name of the President.
We are not far off the mark in believing that more people in the lunatic fringe who have nothing better to do insult the President, just to soil his name. They are doing it for sport just to attract public attention. To arrest and seek to prosecute them is to give hostage to fortune. Ignored, they will vanish or die unremarked.
The media publicity they get gives them a false stature which they can otherwise never dream of.
Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo hit the nail on the head on these arrests and prosecutions. Quote; “There is no reason why a constitutional democracy such as ours should use the law to discipline imbeciles and idiots in politics and the media. Imbecilic and idiotic behaviour necessarily and of itself leads to irrelevance in society, not least because imbeciles and idiots can only succeed in making up the lunatic fringe.” We couldn’t agree more. Moreover these are media and political losers who seek to remain relevant by seeing their names published or on court registers. More than that, most of them are desperate to tarnish the name of the country, the President and the Judiciary for political reasons.
It gives the false impression that there is no democracy in Zimbabwe, that we are an intolerant society and the Judiciary, where there is a conviction, is biased and that the President’s opponents are being persecuted.
Shorn of any useful ideas or programmes to sell to prospective voters, these desperate people want to get sympathy votes, that they are victims of a vindictive ruling party and its president. Most of the insults have no value beside criminal nuisance, yet our courts and security agencies have a heavy duty to ensure national security, including ensuring the safety of the imbeciles and idiots.
As already indicated, we don’t, however think that Section 61 of the Constitution which guarantees freedom of expression gives any person, politician or otherwise, unlimited latitude to attack others.
We are a civilised nation with culture and principle of ubuntu/hunhu which enjoin us to respect one another, especially our elders and those in authority. It is important to adopt progressive practices from other societies, but we would be wrong to adopt bad practices simply because they make us look or sound democratic.
There is absolutely nothing democratic about insulting your own Head of State and Government. It is self-demeaning.
Besides, it is not far-fetched to posit that much of the political violence and polarisation which have plagued this country since the advent of the MDC stemmed from the use of crude language by political rivals. We, therefore, want to applaud the pronouncement by Chief Justice Chidyausiku, but warn Zimbabweans that this is a challenge. Are we able to behave as a civilised and a cultured people without the threat of criminal sanction? Are we deserving of unfettered freedom of expression?