Mnangagwa’s proposed Patriotic Bill: Whither Zimbabwe at 41?

President Emmerson Mnangagwa

According to the permanent secretary in the Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs ministry Virginia Mabhiza, as quoted in The Sunday Mail on October 4 2020, her ministry drafted principles of a “Patriot Bill” (which later became the “Patriotic Bill”) in August 2020; at the cynical behest of the Cabinet committee on National Peace and Reconciliation. Mabhiza highlighted the following points as the key principles of her ministry’s draft submitted to Cabinet:

Former Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo

Jonathan N Moyo

  •  It is the sole mandate of the State to engage other nations on issues pertaining to foreign relations.

lIt is the duty of the State to engage other sovereign nations regarding foreign relations, and not the duty of self-serving citizens.

  • Private citizens will have to avoid conduct such as travelling as self-appointed ambassadors, or meeting with foreign officials, to undermine the national interest.
  •  Conniving with or engaging in correspondence with hostile foreign governments and nationals to inflict harm on the country will be criminalised and punished severely.

The sanctions law

On October 27 2020, Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs minister Ziyambi Ziyambi, who also chairs the Cabinet committee on legislation, asked Cabinet to approve the principles of the “Patriot Bill” drafted by his ministry, which he presented no longer as the initially intended Patriot Bill, but as proposed amendments to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. Apparently, the ministry had become concerned about the negative public and international reaction to the idea of a “Patriot” Bill.

The next day, Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services minister Monica Mutsvangwa announced, as reported by The Herald on October 28 2020, that Cabinet had considered, and approved proposals presented by Ziyambi to amend the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act to: “Criminalise the conduct of isolated citizens or groups who, for self-gain, co-operate or connive with hostile foreign governments to inflict suffering on Zimbabwean citizens and to cause damage to the national interest.

The individuals or groups involve themselves in issues of foreign relations without verifying facts or engaging domestic authorities. Such wilful misinformation of foreign governments will, therefore, make the individuals or groups liable for prosecution.

Other actions that will become punishable include planned and timed protests deliberately designed to coincide with major international, continental or regional events or visits.

There are also unsubstantiated claims of torture and abductions that are concocted to tarnish the image of the government, and amendments will criminalise such conduct.

Tellingly, The Herald reported the amendments to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act approved by Cabinet on October 27 2020 as, “the sanction law”, meaning that, whether called the “Patriot” Bill or the “Patriotic” Bill, the clear intent of the proposed law is two-fold: (i) to sanction or criminalise support for Zidera ( Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act) and related sanctions on targeted individuals or organisations; and (ii) to sanction or criminalise opposition to (President Emmerson) Mnangagwa’s regime.

Based on what has been empirically observed over the last three or so yeas since the November 2017 military coup, it is beyond rational disputation that Mnangagwa does not brook any independent and capable opposition whatsoever that seeks to wrest power from him.

Patriot Bill

Mutsvangwa’s announcement that Cabinet had dropped what Mabhiza had pitched as a “Patriot” Bill, in favour of amendments to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act did not go down well with Zanu PF hardliners. Aware that the “Patriot” Bill is a Mnangagwa project that he cynically initiated through Mabhiza by scandalously abusing the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission, whose remit is to bring closure to the Gukurahundi atrocities through justice and national healing and not to strict people’s fundamental rights and freedoms, the Zanu PF hardliners tabled a motion in the National Assembly on March 2 2020 in the name of the “Patriotic Bill”. Their loud message was that they wanted and were ready to mobilise for a “Patriotic Bill”, but not for amendments to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.

Objectives of Patriotic Bill

When moving the motion, titled “Promotion of the Country’s Positive Image”, Alum Mpofu, Member of Parliament for Mberengwa South who suffered a sudden death three weeks later on March 28 2021, told the National Assembly that Mnangagwa’s proposed Patriotic Bill seeks two objectives, namely:

  1. a) recognises and celebrates efforts made by Zimbabwean citizens at home and abroad to promote the country’s positive image and brand; and
  2. b) prohibits any Zimbabwean citizen from wilfully communicating messages intended to harm the image and reputation of the country on international platforms or engaging with foreign countries with the intention of communicating messages intended to harm the country’s positive image and/or to undermine its integrity and reputation”.

The buttressing, rationalisation and reinforcement of these objectives was given by the Member of Parliament for Gutu South and Zanu PF chief whip in the National Assembly, Pupurai Togarepi, who said: “The imposition of sanctions by the United States, European Union, Canada, Australia et cetera was at the behest of our people.

“The imposition of sanctions by these countries was as a result of lobbying by certain individuals. Some deliberately went to these countries to ask for the people of Zimbabwe to be killed by way of denying us access to health, in other words you are saying we should die.

“These are citizens of Zimbabwe, what are we doing as a country to ensure that such people pay for exposing the people of Zimbabwe, we need to do something, and it should be done now.

“ … civic organisations that in their activities deviate from their core business and start advancing activities that destabilise the people of Zimbabwe … people come to this country, they tell us that they are social welfare organisations yet they have political agendas … if you have campaigned against Zimbabwe, the law should actually bar you from getting into any public office because you will have killed the people that you want to look after. If you attack the leader of this country that has an effect when that leader goes out there to source business for this country.

“Nobody wants to do business with a person who from his country is called so many names. So, it is very important that the media, politicians, businesspeople and all citizens of this country understand that they are people of Zimbabwe first before their political and business interests. We are one and it is a law that we can put down today in this House on this land that will defend the interest of Zimbabwe.”

It is notable that the reasons proffered by the Zanu PF chief whip to justify Mnangagwa’s proposed Patriotic Bill fly in the face of the rationalisations invoked by the regime to justify the military ouster of the late former President Robert Mugabe and his government in November 2017.

Criticism of the Patriotic Bill

Mnangagwa’s proposed Patriotic Bill has met with ferocious resistance, nationally from civil society activists, academics and the political opposition, and internationally from intergovernmental bodies and multilateral human rights NGOs.

In the main, the following seven notable criticisms have been raised:

  1. In drafting the principles of the Patriotic Bill approved by Cabinet, the Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs ministry has sought to justify the need for the Bill by claiming that it is based on the precedent of the Logan Act enacted 222 years ago in the United States on January 30 1799.
  2. Jonathan Moyo is former Higher and Tertiary Education minister