BY HARRIET CHIKANDIWA/ EMMA NACHUMBA
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa yesterday urged legislators to finalise laws relating to elections and the controversial Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) (Amendment) Bill, which has been criticised as undemocratic and an attempt to stifle dissent ahead of the 2023 polls.
His remarks at the State of the Nation Address (Sona) when he officially opened the Fifth Session of the Ninth Parliament at the New Parliament building in Mt Hampden, however, raised dust in the opposition and labour movement.
“The session comes ahead of the 2023 harmonised elections. Parliament is, therefore, expected to accelerate the completion of matters on the legislative agenda in line with expectations of the electorate,” Mnangagwa said.
“The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) (Amendment) Bill, 2022; the Public Interest Disclosure (Protection of Whistle-blowers) Bill, 2022; the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2022; the Witness Protection Bill; the Zimbabwe Human Rights (Amendment) Bill; and the Legal Aid (Amendment) Bill must all be tabled during this session. The Electoral (Amendment) Bill, which spells out new provisions for holding the 2023 harmonised elections, should be speedily concluded.”
The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) (Amendment) Bill emanates from the proposed Patriotic Bill which the ruling party has been pushing for.
The Bill calls for criminal punishment for people who speak ill of the country.
“Political players, seeking the people’s mandate during the upcoming 2023 elections must maintain and consolidate the peace, unity, harmony and love that we have built under the second republic. Violent confrontations have never been part of our culture,” Mnangagwa said.
He said the economy was performing well and highlighted various interventions that his government had undertaken to arrest rampant inflation and the local currency’s slide.
Mnangagwa called for the unconditional removal of sanctions, which he claimed had constrained the country’s socio-economic growth for decades.
But the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and the opposition described the Sona as a damp squib devoid of details of how the President intends to address the country’s multi-faceted crises.
In a statement yesterday, ZCTU urged legislators to reject the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill, which it said was meant to stifle dissent ahead of the 2023 polls.
“There is no doubt that this Bill will be used as a weapon against opponents of the government to clampdown on dissenting voices. ZCTU believes that issues to do with patriotism should not be imposed on citizens, and patriotism should not be imposed on citizens. Patriotism does not mean keeping quiet when there is bad governance,” ZCTU said.
“With elections drawing closer, ZCTU also believes this Bill is meant to instil fear in Zimbabweans so that they do not speak out on issues to do with violence, harassment and intimidation that have been the hallmark of our elections over the years.”
Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) Mbizo legislator Settlement Chikwinya said Mnangagwa failed to address issues affecting long-suffering Zimbabweans.
“The Sona presented by President Mnangagwa remains empty rhetoric devoid of addressing issues as expected by citizens especially now towards elections where the electorate needs electoral reforms that address outstanding issues that have always made elections to be disputed,” Chikwinya said.
“We as the CCC condemn the intention of government to smuggle the Patriotic Bill through amendment of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. The proposed legislative agenda is not practical considering the length of the Fifth Session which is due to end by June (next year).”
Norton legislator Themba Mliswa (Independent) said: “The issue of corruption was not spoken about. On violence, it starts with the political parties. They are the ones who are the perpetrators of this.”
Harare East legislator and CCC vice-president Tendai Biti said: “Zimbabwe is divided, it is too polarised yet the issue of common identity was not addressed. If you do not address the issues of nationhood in a state of the nation address, the state of the nation address becomes hollow.
“The issue of corruption, which is tearing the country apart was not addressed. If you can’t address that you are not addressing the crisis in Zimbabwe.”