GUEST COLUMN Miriam Tose Majome
IN a constitutional democracy such as ours, the government can be legally challenged and removed, as long as it is done constitutionally.
The government gets some things right and pleases some, but sometimes it makes mistakes, cheats and abuses people and displeases others.
Citizens have the right to resist and challenge government policies. Challenging the government’s policies constitutional as long as it is done peacefully.
If the challenge is violent or physically threatening or threatens the peace, then it is unlawful.
Calling on the government to step down is also not a crime, even though it is often treated as such.
Sometimes citizens are arrested and brutalised simply for exercising their freedoms of conscience and expression.
It is a crime to subvert a constitutionally elected government. To subvert means to overthrow, undermine, destabilise or topple a government.
Subversion typically involves the use of firepower, which may break into a full-scale civil war — Syria being an example.
Physical force, violence, incitement and threats to cause the overthrow of a government are unlawful.
Organising, advocating, urging, attempting or suggesting to overthrow the government by unconstitutional means are also unlawful.
Carrying dangerous weapons during demonstrations such as catapults, machetes, axes, knobkerries, swords, knives or daggers is unlawful.
Even though section 61 allows everyone the freedom of expression to seek, receive and communicate ideas and other information, there are limits to the right.
Sharing or generating abusive and threatening content such as petrol-bomb recipes is prohibited, including information that incites violence and hate speech.
The law gives freedoms with one hand, but takes them away with the other.
It also allows for the government to be challenged and criticised, but only peacefully.
However, questions will always be asked about how effective peaceful protests really are. Does walking, waving placards, make a real difference?
On the other hand, questions are equally asked about what citizen-violence achieves; such as stoning cars, burning tyres and engaging in running battles with
the police and rival political party members.
The Constitution accords people political and civil rights, which entitle them to freely and legally participate in politics.
Political participation means discussing politics, running for and freely electing candidates into political office. The emphasis is on the word “freely”, as
participation should be without restraint or compulsion.
No one should be forced to participate in political activities or prohibited from doing so against their conscience and will.
Section 67 allows every Zimbabwean to (a) form, to join and to participate in the activities of a political party or organisation of their choice, (b) campaign
freely and peacefully for a political party or cause, (c) participate in peaceful political activities and (d) participate individually or collectively in
gatherings or groups in peaceful activities to influence, challenge or support the policies of the government or any political or whatever cause.
One of the quirks of democracy is that the government should prescribe the rules for protesting against it. Protesters must abide by these rules or else face
the wrath of the law.
The newly passed Maintenance of Public Order Bill, like its predecessor the Public Order and Security Act, requires conveners of protests to give advance
notification of the protest to the police.
While on paper it is not called permission, in actual effect it is because the police may refuse it on the pretext of being short-staffed or if they believe
they will not be able to contain any public disorder that may ensue.
Maybe we are afraid to admit that the democracy experiment is not for every country.
Sometimes this government of the people, by the people philosophy just sounds like a feel good boisterous rhyme.
Even countries like the United Kingdom, which have been at it for almost 900 years, still haven’t gotten it right.
As for the United States, the American Dream is a living nightmare for some of its citizens who enjoy democratic rights only on paper.
Our own flirtation with democracy has been a bumpy ride. Some people are not happy with the present government’s handling of the economy and passionately
believe it should not be allowed go on until the next elections in 2023.
They want it to step down immediately or be removed. Here, the assumption is that the removal will be by constitutional means.
However, there are also citizens who like and support the present government and also passionately believe it should stay on – even beyond 2023.
Both sides have valid points and democratic rights which they are entitled to enforce.
However, it is impossible to please all of the people all of the time and even more impossible to balance the democratic rights of opposing political