HARARE – Zimbabwe’s opposition is pushing for the repeal of a State law that makes it a crime to gesture rudely or swear at President Robert Mugabe’s high-speed, heavily-armed motorcade.
The Road Traffic (Rules of the Road) (Amendment) Regulations, issued in 2002, state that when the presidential motorcade — usually comprising about 24 vehicles — passes, anyone nearby “shall not make any gesture or statement within the view or hearing of the State motorcade with the intention of insulting any person travelling with an escort or any member of the escort”.
Mugabe’s motorcade comprises sirens of the accompanying motorcycle escorts, 4X4 vehicles carrying heavily-armed soldiers, sedans with plainclothes secret police and an ambulance, at the back.
At the centre is Mugabe’s bullet-proof stretch Mercedes Benz with darkly-tinted windows.
The opposition said the law must be struck off the statute books because it infringed on the constitutionally enshrined right of freedom of expression as it sought to stifle communication by citizens in either speech or gesture.
Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC vowed to repeal the law if it won the 2018 polls, promising to make good on that promise.
“When the MDC takes over power after next year’s elections, these type of fascist laws will be promptly repealed. A leader should earn the people’s respect, he shouldn’t demand to be respected,” MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said.
Jacob Mafume, spokesperson for Tendai Biti’s opposition PDP said: “It is in violation of the Constitution which allows us freedom of expression and to demonstrate if we are unhappy. We will strike it down to the extent of inconsistency with a just and democratic society.”
Gutu said Mugabe has “always considered himself a super human being who shouldn’t be equated with other ordinary Zimbabweans.”
“This is typical of dictators the world over. Dictators know that the people hate and loathe them and as such, they always enact laws that seek to humiliate ordinary people. That particular traffic law is just meant to intimidate ordinary people and in the process, to elevate the status of the president.”
When the convoy sweeps down the road, all other vehicles are forced to pull to the side of the road and stop. The regulations state that “the driver of every vehicle on the road on which a State motorcade is travelling . . . shall halt his vehicle”.
The regulations are part of an armoury of draconian laws meant to uphold “the dignity” of the 93-year-old Mugabe. The Public Order and Security Act outlaws making “an abusive, indecent, obscene or false statement” about the president and is punishable by a jail term of up to a year.