Paying the price for insulting Mugabe
BY NQABA MATSHAZI
LONG-suffering Zimbabweans, frustrated with President Robert Mugabe’s
seemingly unending rule, have taken to cracking jokes about their leader,
but these have seen many falling afoul of the law.
In a country with harsh free speech laws, there is a thin line between a
joke about the president and an insult undermining him and many have been
trapped in this minefield.
As Mugabe strengthens his 31-year grip on power, the jokes have increased
and proportionally, so have the cases of people arraigned for insulting the
The cases vary from those that have called Mugabe “old” to those that
allegedly have called him a liar and to those that accuse him of overseeing
the collapse of what was arguably a vibrant economy.
In recent weeks there has been an upsurge of people being arrested for
insulting the president, but bizarrely, a prison warden was fired for
allegedly insulting the president’s sister.
Joel Ndlovu, a chief superintendent with the Zimbabwe Prison Services (ZPS)
was last week fired after a disciplinary hearing, where he had been charged
with insulting Sabina Mugabe, the president’s late sister.
Ndlovu, who was based at Khami prison, allegedly described Sabina as a woman
of loose morals, who did not deserve to be buried at Heroes Acre.
A security guard is also facing the wrath of the law after he accused Mugabe
of presiding over the collapse of the economy, while paying homage to the
MDC-T, which the guard claimed had healed the economy.
Another strange case is that of Gift Mafuka, who was convicted for one year
after he chided some children for wearing T-shirts of an “old and wrinkled”
Mafuka appealed against the conviction and the matter is yet to be
In the initial ruling, two months were suspended from the 12- month
sentence, on condition that Mafuka did not commit a similar offence in the
next five years, by then Mugabe would be 91.
The most high-profile case, however, should be that of Jameson Timba, a
Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, who was accused of calling
Mugabe a “liar” in a press release in the aftermath of the Sadc summit in
South Africa that deliberated on Zimbabwe.
Hardliners within Zanu PF, Mugabe’s party, claimed the statements undermined
the president and Timba had to be brought to book for disrespecting the
He was later released but not before lodging a High Court appeal and
spending two nights behind bars.
Law meant to intimidate people, says rights lawyer
Nyanga North legislator, Douglas Mwonzora leads a host of MDC-T officials
who have been arraigned before the courts for allegedly insulting Mugabe.
Mwonzora allegedly described the president as a “goblin”, who would be
forced to flee.
As if that was not enough, Mwonzora was again in the dock for denigrating
the octogenarian leader after he allegedly pointed at Mugabe’s portrait and
chided “. . .how are you father, how is your health and how is your eye?”
But human rights activists believe that the laws that make it an offence to
insult the president are archaic and should be declared unconstitutional.
“Such laws are kept in place to maintain a repressive and closed environment
that does not promote freedom of speech and hence tilt the political scale
in favour of the incumbent,” Dzimbabwe Chimbga, a programmes officer at the
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), said.
Despite the laws being difficult to prosecute, Chimbga said they served a
strategic purpose, as it muzzled criticism particularly when it was directed
at the president.
“This is a futile attempt to deny people the opportunity to publicly discuss
issues of governance and more specifically issues concerning how the
executive is discharging its duties or in any event failing to do so,” he
The rights body said it had referred several cases to the Supreme Court and
a number were pending at the constitutional court.
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