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Comment: Aping colonisers: liberators’ undoing

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The ugly and unproductive political dogfight between President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai over the implementation of facets of the global political agreement is a danger to the well-being of this society.

It has relegated the fundamental aspect of democratic reform to a footnote as political protagonists seek to score political points.

We reported yesterday that Tsvangirai had taken President Mugabe to the High Court in a desperate measure to force the ageing but wily leader to act in line with the GPA.

What is disappointing about Tsvangirai’s prayers to the High Court is the focus on the appointment of provincial governors and little or no emphasis on the need to open up the democratic space in the country.

In other words, the commitment by the leaders — as stated in the GPA — to work towards greater freedoms no longer tops the agenda.

The democratisation agenda is comatose, more so when viewed in the context of President Mugabe agitating for elections in the New Year. The bad laws will be on our statute books when elections are held and our rulers will not hesitate to use them against political opponents.

Chief among these laws are those that inhibit freedom of expression and assembly. We have already started to see the state employing criminal libel laws against the media with greater force. Standard staffer Nqobani Ndlovu is languishing in remand prison, a victim of these pernicious laws.

What is worrying is that the government has stopped talking the language of reform. The Harare Spring is over. There is now a concerted effort to justify the tough laws as necessary.

The proponents of repression must be reminded that the repressive laws abridging freedom of expression and curtailing media freedom were largely shaped by English law and legal tradition.

These repressive laws were deeply influenced by the response of colonial authorities to the development of nationalist movements and the heightening of nationalist consciousness.

The laws were designed as weapons in the armoury of colonisers in their attempt to suppress the growth of nationalism in the British Empire.

They were at the time symbols of authoritarian, anti-democratic impulses within our body politic.

The growth of nationalist sentiment in this country was partly aimed at eradicating such forms of repression.

James Chikerema was a notable victim in the 1950s.
Today the same laws are being employed extensively by our so-called liberators.

They have become latter-day colonial oppressors hence the media has been virtually unanimous in demanding their repeal.

The demand has also been articulated by representatives of broad segments of civil society.

There is thus strong national support for the repeal of anomalies like criminal defamation which will assist in the process of consolidating and deepening the hold of democracy in our country.

This must be the primary object of contemporary public policy. The dangers inherent in the retention of these laws for an open, free society are now plain for all to see. They are being used and abused for party-political purposes.

The laws are unworthy of a society seeking to develop on democratic principles, on the basis of transparency and accountability in public life. Why are the liberators so eager to ape the colonial oppressors?

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