A STANDING ovation to the High Court of Zimbabwe for handing down a number of progressive judgments relating to COVID-19.
Guest Column by Fidelicy Nyamukondiwa
Some, if not all of these judgments, have far-reaching effects both during and beyond the lockdown.
What is more important, however, is for all responsible persons and authorities to comply with the court orders otherwise the purpose of the judgments will be defeated.
Failing to comply with a court order or dragging feet in complying is a blatant violation of the court’s dignity and authority. It reduces the court’s judgment into a mere brutum fulmen. A brutum fulmen is an empty noise or
threat. Where a court judgment is said to be a brutum fulmen, it would be as good as there was no judgment at all.
The COVID-19 court judgments, some of which are briefly outlined below, were delivered against the State and its institutions. The rule of law, which is one of the founding values and principles set out in the Constitution, requires every person including government institutions to obey and respect court orders.
Supply of water
That there has been a poor supply of water by most local authorities throughout the country is a fact. It is also undeniable that water is a critical need, especially in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic. That citizens have not been observing the social distancing rule at water points is also irrefutable.
During the lockdown, the High Court handed down a judgment to compel the government and Harare City Council to ensure there is adequate supply of clean water during the lockdown.
Justice Happias Zhou, who delivered the judgment, also ordered the city council to provide marshals to monitor compliance with the social distancing rule at water points.
Security forces brutality
More than 150 cases of brutality on citizens by lockdown enforcers were documented during the first 21-day lockdown period. In one case, a human life was lost after a Bulawayo man was allegedly assaulted by an enforcement officer.
Commendably, the High Court delivered a judgment ordering the police, soldiers and other security agents to respect human rights and to refrain from brutalising citizens in enforcing the lockdown.
The court order was made following an urgent chamber application by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) and Lucia Masvondo, a Karoi woman who claimed that State security agents beat her up and set a dog on her in the name of enforcing lockdown regulations.
On April 20, 2020, High Court judge Justice Jacob Manzunzu ordered the police and other COVID-19 law enforcement agencies to refrain from unnecessarily arresting, detaining or interfering with the work of journalists.
The judgment was handed down just after the government clarified through Statutory Instrument 93 of 2020 that the work of journalists and newspaper vendors is an essential service.
The case found its way to court after Media Institute of Southern Africa-Zimbabwe (Misa-Zim-babwe) and Panashe Makufa, a journalist, sued the police and the Zimbabwe Media Commission
over alleged harassment of journalists.
PPE for frontline health workers
It is a fact that frontline health practitioners are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 because they regularly deal with suspected and confirmed cases. It is also indubitable that Zimbabwean nurses and doctors have been threatening to down tools due to the non-availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect them against contracting the coronavirus in the course of duty.
On April 14, 2020, High Court judges Justices Owen Tagu and Joseph Musakwa ordered the government to provide PPE for front-line health workers across the country. Among other directives, the High Court also ordered the government to adequately equip public hospitals with COVID-19-related medication and equipment.
The order followed an urgent chamber application by the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights. Health and Child Care minister Obadiah Moyo, his counterparts Mthuli Ncube (Finance) and Joel Biggie Matiza (Transport) were hauled to court as respondents.
Access to COVID-19 information Section 62(2) of the Constitution provides that every person has the right of access to any information in so far as the infor- mation is required for the exercise or protection of a right.
Daily COVID-19 updates issued by the Health and Child Care ministry are required for the exercise and protection of health rights.