Just saying . . .

In the past week several interesting events took place and controversial comments made — it made my task that much difficult to pick on a few, but this week let me focus on the infamous shoot-to-kill policy, the so-called New Patriotic Front and Gukurahundi.

By Paul Kaseke

The first noteworthy comment was from Environmental, Water and Climate minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, who had no issue telling parks rangers to “shoot to kill” poachers caught in the act. While the idea of active and robust patrolling of our parks is noble, that instruction is fundamentally at odds with the Constitution and shows very little regard for human life. One of the most sacred of constitutional values, rights and principles is the right to life in Section 48 of the Constitution which provides the only limitation as being the death penalty.

Beyond that, another founding value of the Constitution is the rule of law — which in part entails that the law must be allowed to take its courts and in this case, that perpetrators of poaching must be brought to book and any justice meted out must be done through the court system.

To give instructions to shoot to kill is tantamount to skipping the courts who have the mandate of deciding befitting punishment for crimes committed.

The shoot-to-kill policy is extra-judicial killing or summary execution because it violates the rights of the accused to a trial by a competent court. Park rangers and wardens are not courts of law — theirs is to apprehend suspects and hand them over to the relevant authorities for prosecution etc.

To be fair to the minister though, it seems that there has been silent endorsement of this policy for some years now if some media reports are anything to go by, but it is also clear that Botswana has made use of the policy for years with claims that it has reduced poaching because of it.

Two researchers from Botswana controversially asked South Africa to also do the same, but the idea was shot down largely on the basis of the right to life which is couched in similar terms as the Zimbabwean right with regard to our own Constitution. It is crucial to note that there is a founding principle and value for the inherent dignity and worth of each human being in our Constitution which is why even criminals are meant to be treated in a humane way despite their wrongs.

Our law recognises lawful killing of individuals in instances where self-defence is raised or where the safety of officers is at risk etc, but these are defences or exceptions rather than the general norm. We can never justify killing humans over animals regardless of how wrong the killing of the animal may be. It is important that we don’t conflate issues here – poaching is wrong and should be dealt with in line with other criminal offences, but killing to control poaching is not a constitutionally sound principle.

For me, this speaks to a greater issue we have as Zimbabweans: the failure to recognise the value of human life. On this score, I think the minister should be advised to retract her policy and shooting should only be used where there is an immediate threat to the well-being of the animal or the warden and even then, it should be shooting to disarm rather than to kill. The use of lethal force should only be used where it is a matter of life and death.

The other buzzing topic this week was, of course, the continued Gukurahundi debates and questions. Gukurahundi is a legitimate issue that needs to be addressed and it cannot be brushed aside or wished away. I have written on this before in the article The Dissident Propaganda and I still maintain that the Dumbutshena and Chihambakwe Commission reports need to be released as part of national healing. Former President Robert Mugabe pardoned all those involved in any killings at the time so I am doubtful about the possibility of criminal charges being laid against perpetrators, but what is important is closure.

It is important for the families of those who lost loved ones to know what happened, how it happened and why. It is important for even those that did not lose loved ones to realise that the loss was not just for the families, but for our nation as a whole, because it happened to one of us.

Those that are ignorant on what the buzz is about should read the Catholic Commission for Justice Project’s Report into the disturbances to understand why this is a deeply bitter part of our history. We must educate each other on what happened and move away from the “moment of madness” narrative Mugabe fed us.

That much is non-negotiable as part of the healing process. That part of our history must be documented and incorporated into our education curriculum so that it is, in the words of the late Moven Mahachi, “never repeated by anybody, ever again”. President Emmerson Mnangagwa missed a golden opportunity to make amends when he failed to offer a direct apology for this when asked during his interview. He must offer an apology as President, regardless of his role in the atrocities and push for a closure process which starts by declassifying the Commission reports that Mugabe did not release.

This would go a long way in showing that he is indeed committed to righting the wrongs of the past. It is unfortunate that some callous individuals are exploiting the pain and emotions attached to this genocide just to settle political scores yet never said a word when they were in government. Gukurahundi is our shared history and pain and should not be exploited for political mileage by anyone.

Finally, there is talk of a new party to be called “The New Patriotic Front”, which compromises of individuals kicked out of Zanu PF. While the wisdom of starting such a party is questionable given that those individuals are largely the reason Zimbabwe collapsed due to their corruption and inflated egos, this move must not be underestimated.

The goal seems to split the vote during the upcoming elections. If anything, perhaps it is another Bhora Musango which the opposition formations are unwittingly contributing to. I think it is quite clear that these individuals who want to “emulate and preserve the ideals of Mugabe” know they cannot secure an electoral win but what they do want to do is ensure that Zanu PF does not get an outright majority or possibly even the required percentage to win the election.

This would create a hung parliament or force another coalition government of sorts.

While Zanu has said it won’t lose sleep over this, it should be very careful that they will fail to have a majority in Parliament because of such parties though at this stage I doubt many individuals would go to the polls to elect individuals who openly believe in the Mugabe leadership ideals and governance.

Oh well, they are entitled to dream in the new Zimbabwe and, of course, they have a right to form a political party should they wish — it is, after all, a constitutional right. I just don’t think they will get very far . . . just saying.

Paul Kaseke is a legal adviser, commentator, analyst and sessional law lecturer with the Wits Law School & Pearson Institute of Higher Education (formerly Midrand Graduate Institute). He serves as Director and current Group Chair of AfriConsult Firm. He writes in his personal capacity. You can give him feedback via email: feedback@paulkasekesnr.com or follow him on twitter @paulkasekesnr

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