via LETTER: MDC stood no chance in court | Letters | BDlive to Business Day – South Africa
You are right that the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) needs a period of deep introspection and potential change in leadership if it is to challenge Zanu (PF) in future, but you are mistaken in criticising the withdrawal of the court challenge to the election (At the end, a mere whimper by MDC, August 20).
While the MDC should be commended for attempting to always play by the book and respect the law, it had no hope of success before Zimbabwe’s highest court.
Indeed, the Constitutional Court (previously the Supreme Court, under the old constitution) is a symptom of exactly what is wrong with the country — every arm of the state is controlled and enmeshed by the ruling Zanu (PF).
The military, police, senior civil servants and judiciary do not answer to the people of Zimbabwe; they answer to the politburo of the ruling party.
It was not always this way. The pre-2001 Supreme Court, headed by Anthony Gubbay, made notable strides in advancing personal freedoms against Zanu (PF) hegemony.
In the 1990s, the court ruled as unconstitutional the detention without due cause of people walking in public who failed to carry their identity documents.
The court forced the government to grant to female citizens equal immigration rights for their spouses as those granted to spouses of male citizens. It ruled against the monopoly of the state-owned Post and Telecommunications Corporation, allowing Econet Wireless to set up the country’s first mobile network in 1997.
Most significantly, in 2001 the court ruled that the government’s backing of land seizures was unconstitutional without due process and compensation, but this proved to be too much for Zanu (PF).
Unable to remove judges through legal means, the ruling party resorted to harassing and threatening judges into early retirement, replacing them with pliant partisans such as current Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, a former Zanu (PF) MP who, as a high court judge, had astonishingly publicly blasted his superiors in the Supreme Court for overruling his judgments on land matters.
The judiciary has since gone rapidly downhill. One of the first acts of the Chidyausiku Supreme Court was to uphold the land seizure process. The concept of recusal due to the fact they were beneficiaries of the process did not enter the minds of some of the justices, including Chidyausiku himself.
They upheld Jonathan Moyo’s media laws that killed off the only independent daily newspaper and refused to force the government to comply with its own laws and license private radio or television stations.
When the high courts of the country cancelled the election results of several Zanu (PF)-held constituencies after the 2000 parliamentary elections and ordered by-elections due to either fraud or violence, the party appealed to the Supreme Court, which failed to rule on the cases during the life of that parliament, allowing Zanu (PF) to hold the seats until the next election.
Basic common sense eluded the court in 2005, when it upheld the right of Zanu (PF) parliamentarians to sentence a fellow MP (the MDC’s Roy Bennett) to jail with hard labour. No matter what the offence, there is no precedent in any democracy anywhere for party politicians to use their parliamentary majority to send their colleagues to jail.
I could go on, but in short almost every case since 2001 involving the opposition versus the government has been decided in the government’s favour or in a manner beneficial to the prospects of Zanu (PF).
The Constitutional Court has already shown it was not interested in a free, fair and credible election by insisting the poll be held when none of the conditions for such a poll existed. To expect it to admit as much by cancelling the election was pure dreaming by the MDC.
It is far better for the MDC to return to the more realistic task of selling an alternative vision of the country to the public. By the time the next elections come around, in 2018, much of the electorate will have no memory of a functioning, stable country that was Zimbabwe before 1998.
With the advance of the internet and social networking overcoming the blatant bias of state media, the battle for the minds of these voters can still be won.