Not much has changed in Zimbabwe since the emergence of Emmerson Mnangagwa as the country’s president in 2017. Under former President Robert Mugabe, it was a crime to insult the President. After seizing power from Mugabe and promising a new era of freedom, it is still a crime to insult or criticize the head of state in the South African nation.
A 35-year-old student at Midlands State University (MSU), Victor Majoni, is the latest victim of this obnoxious law. The law was declared as unconstitutional in 2013 by Zimbabwe’s highest court when Mnangagwa was the Minister for Justice and Mugabe as the head of state.
Majoni has been arraigned before a Bulawayo Provincial Magistrate facing charges of insulting or undermining the authority of the president, according to Zimbabwean news site New Zimbabwe.
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The student reportedly uploaded on his WhatsApp status a cartoon video that contained insulting remarks against President Mnangagwa. According to local media reports, an official of the ruling ZANU-PF reported him to the police over the cartoon video. The informant, identified as Remigious Komboni, is said to be a farmer and the secretary for the ZANU-PF youth wing.
Komboni, who appeared in court as a state witness, said he had taken it upon himself to report the matter to the police after his warning to Majoni went unheeded. “I was going through WhatsApp statuses on my phone one day and I saw the status on Majoni’s phone,” he told the court.
“I sent him a message to warn him that he was out of line, but he ignored my advice. I approached the councilor and the Member of Parliament before I proceeded to the police. He later told me that his nephew is the one who had uploaded the status,” he added.
Majoni’s lawyer, Nqobani Sithole, told the court that Komboni dislikes his client due to their different political persuasions. Also, he told the court that Komboni had threatened Majoni on several occasions with unspecified action adding that there was no evidence showing that the accused had created the cartoon character.
“The Constitution provides for freedom of expression. Whoever designed the post is the one responsible for that content” he said. “According to my client, on several occasions, you uttered tribal slurs to him. You have threatened him with unspecified action.”
Majoni applied for the charges to be dropped but the Bulawayo Provincial Magistrates ruled that enough evidence had been provided to the effect that he committed the offense.
A person could be jailed for up to a year or fined $100 for insulting the president’s office under Section 33 of Zimbabwe’s Criminal Codification and Reform Act. However, in 2013, Zimbabwe’s highest court in a unanimous ruling declared the law as unconstitutional.
Prosecutors should not be overzealous about charging people who comment about President Mugabe “in drinking halls and other social places”, the Constitutional Court said.
Despite the 2013 Constitutional court ruling, the prosecution of people for insulting or criticizing the president still persists.