Just a few weeks after the elections in Zimbabwe I remember discussing with some diplomats what the future held for the country, considering how President Robert Mugabe had just “stolen” the elections.
Doom, gloom and uncertainty pervaded the country, a Zanu PF victory – and at that scale – was just unfathomable. I surprised myself by saying I expected Mugabe and his party to put in place some reforms and be more willing to engage.
Then it sounded farfetched, Mugabe had just romped to victory on an election platform that was full of sound and fury and there was no sign that he was willing to engage anyone.
My optimism was based on that Mugabe had got what he wanted – a life presidency – and now he had to build his legacy. Despite his liberation credentials, Mugabe’s reign has been spoiled by allegations of a genocide, misrule and corruption and this could be his last chance to right the wrongs of the past decades.
True, the rhetoric continues, but more than ever, I believe Zimbabwe has turned the corner and maybe, Mugabe may put in place far reaching reforms, which were previously unthinkable.
I have been watching, albeit from a distance, the recent Constitutional Court rulings and I believe this gives hope that more reforms are coming.
One of the biggest victories for me is the ruling by the courts that insult laws were unconstitutional and stifled freedom of expression. Insult laws, in a nutshell, were that it was illegal for citizens to insult, undermine or bring the office of the president into disrepute.
While this may look like a small victory, for some this might be the sign of bigger things to come, considering that even pointing a finger at the presidential motorcade bordered on criminality.
The Constitutional Court has been busy since it was put in place and I am hopeful that a new constitutional order is in the offing and I hope Zimbabweans grasp it with both hands.
Another positive sign came with Information minister Jonathan Moyo hinting that the government planned to drop criminal defamation from the legal statutes, as such a law was ultra vires the constitution.
I feel there is no other law that affects the practice of journalism in Zimbabwe than this one and any moves to repeal such laws are more than welcome. Many media activists usually speak of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), but prosecutions under this law have been few and far in between, whereas journalists have been arrested willy-nilly on criminal defamation charges, where the burden of proof is on the accused.
Once charged with defamation, one has to prove their innocence, instead of the legal standard that one is innocent until proven guilty, in summary if you face a criminal defamation charge, you are literally guilty until you prove your innocence.
As someone who has been charged under criminal defamation twice, please excuse my excitement that there is a prospect that this law may be repealed. Sceptics may point out that this was only the view of Jonathan Moyo and may not be legally binding.
But history has taught me that Zimbabwe’s laws follow its politics and I believe there’s room for optimism.
In the same vein, a law that criminalised the publishing of falsehoods is also set to be repealed, after judges of the Constitutional Court ruled that it had no place in a democratic society. Excuse my optimism, but if this trend continues then Zimbabwe is in for good times.
A columnist, Nathaniel Manheru – widely believed to be Mugabe’s spokesperson, George Charamba – has also warned that Zimbabweans has been given a sniff at democracy during the tenure of the previous government and that Mugabe and Zanu PF should not think of returning the country to the post 2008 era, as this was likely to cause resistance.
Instead he advised that Mugabe’s latest government should be in a position to institute more reforms, as this was the only way Zimbabwe could move forward
Strong and uncharacteristic words from, Manheru and I believe this gives us reason to be optimistic, as I believe he has Mugabe’s ear.
The next few months shall be interesting, but my only prayer is that Zimbabweans get more freedom, the last 15 years or so have been tough but they have been resilient and at some point they have to be rewarded for their resilience.