ZIMBABWE – Former MDC-T councilor Tendai Musonza on Monday appeared before Chinhoyi Magistarete, Felix Mawadze, for allegedly undermining the office of the president by uttering what the state says were derogatory words.
The state alleges that on the 29th of October at Chonde Barber Shop in the Chinhoyi Central Business District, Musonza met a Zanu PF activist wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with President Robert Mugabe’s face and told him in Shona “vanhu imi hamungarambe muchitongwa nekamudhara kavenemakore 90 years uye kanoramba kachingodonha…..”, which when literary translated means “You Zanu PF people you still want to be ruled by an old man who is 90 years old and keeps on falling …”
Musonza is also said to have used unprintable words that the state says demeaned the office of the president.
The former MDC-T councilor pleaded not guilty and was remanded to the 16th of November on free bail for trial.
Lawyer Kudzai Choga said the charge is “anti-democratic” and meant to suppress freedom of expression.
“The offence is ant-democracy, it suppresses freedom of expression and makes the president a semi-god, the charge is basically meant to thwart any criticism to the president,” said Choga.
MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu said people should not be arrested for commenting on what the president does because he is a public figure.
Gutu said, “It has been abused and misused in a way in which the police have deliberately targeted opposition political party supporters and people should appreciate that once you are a holder of a public office especially a political office more so if you are a president of the republic whatever you do is news if you are to walk barefoot or wearing tight fitting jeans … it’s news to the people of the republic.”
Musonza is being tried under the controversial Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act which criminalizes insulting the president.
More than 70 Zimbabweans have over the past five years been arrested and charged for allegedly insulting Mr. Mugabe.
The Supreme Court in 2013 scrapped the controversial insult law saying it breaches people’s rights. But the Constitutional Court gave Vice President and Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa the right to appeal.
Mnangagwa subsequently appealed arguing that the laws must not be revoked since they protect the reputation of the president and the matter is yet to be concluded.
Justice Chidyausiku previously queried the imposition of 20 years as the maximum prison term for criminal defamation claiming this would intimidate the public from freely expressing themselves.