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Kuruneri’s acquittal pregnant with lessons


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By Mutumwa Mawere

THE significance of the acquittal of Dr Chris Kuruneri as was the acquittal of James Makamba and others has one again gone unnoticed particularly in respect of the constitutional order obtaining in the Zimbabwe of today.

Key questions need to be asked and answered on the kind of Zimbabwe we want and what kind of values should inform it. What kind of constitutional order would allow a citizen to be deprived of his human and property rights on trumped up charges with impunity on the part of the perpetrators?

Is it the kind of Zimbabwe that the national democratic revolution was founded upon and successfully prosecuted? Why has the opposition been silent on these atrocities and vocal on others?

With the acquittal of Kuruneri, the opposition is conspicuous by its silence as President Thabo Mbeki proceeds with his mandate by warning on Sunday that elections in Zimbabwe next year must be "free and fair" and produce a government legitimate in the eyes of the people of the devastated nation while no mention was made of the complete breakdown of the rule of law and political morality that should inform any democratic society as is evident in the handling of this landmark case

If a government can get away with constructively undermining the rights of citizens how can rational minds expect any fair play on election issues?

Here you have a cabinet minister in President Mugabe’s government being arrested and spending 15 months in remand prison and a further two years under house arrest on allegations of externalisation, a charge invented by the Governor of the RBZ, Gideon Gono, when he was appointed in 2003 to position himself as an action man determined to rid Zimbabwe of an economic disease that has so far not found a doctor.

Apart from the emotional and psychological aspect of the senseless sterilisation of a brilliant mind, the battle between Kuruneri and the State he accepted to serve as minister has cost him dearly. He had to hire five lawyers and appear before seven judges and three magistrates before being finally acquitted.

After this ordeal, the State led by President Mugabe who has of late styled himself as a corruption buster failed to sustain its case and as expected, no-one is to be punished for the abuse. In fact, President Mugabe is expected to run for another term during which more victims like Kuruneri are likely to suffer the same fate with no hope of justice or accountability on the part of the state.

"You can give Kuruneri as many citizenships as you want, but you can never take the Zimbabweanship in him"

The position taken by Kuruneri from the beginning of his ordeal has not changed i.e. that Zimbabwe had no jurisdiction over free funds available to an individual and used to acquire offshore assets. The acquittal of Kuruneri has left him only facing punishment for illegally possessing a Canadian passport, an offence for which he has already been convicted on his own plea of guilt.

The real trouble for Kuruneri had nothing to do with his dual citizenship but that a South African newspaper, the Sunday Times, broke the story that he was the owner of a seaside mansion in Cape Town, South Africa, that was alleged to have cost about 30 million South African rands.

If Kuruneri, like most of Mugabe’s cabinet ministers as well as businesspersons, had decided to hide his investment, there is no doubt that he would still be a minister. Unfortunately, honesty in Zimbabwe attracts a high cost.

What have been missing in the Kuruneri’s story are the real lessons from this tragedy.

When a cabinet minister in a government that proclaims to be nationalistic and pro-poor decides to invest his money in offshore assets and elects to keep a Canadian citizenship fully knowing the consequences, then you must know that there is something fundamentally wrong about the system.

Kuruneri was smart enough to know that Zimbabwean citizenship has been devalued to such an extent that it really means nothing to citizens if after 27 years of independence they have become poorer than at independence. If the investment climate in Zimbabwe has been made hostile by bad policies, then even Mugabe’s ministers would only be smart enough to know that their investments are more secure in countries with stable economic environments and that respect the rule of law.

Kuruneri’s affairs were put on the spotlight. Police opened investigations into how he got money to finance the construction of his personal property and sought to establish whether he did not break foreign exchange regulations in the process.
Following the newspaper article in South Africa, Kuruneri was then arrested on April 24, 2004, and was initially charged with externalising US$1,082 million, 34 000 British pounds and 30 000 euros. The figures were later revised to US$582 000, R5,2 million, 37 371 British pounds and 30 000 euros.

I have no doubt that Kuruneri at first must have been confused by what was to follow and had befallen him and would naturally have thought that it was a big joke.

He first made a bail application on April 30, 2004, naively thinking that any reasonable judge would dismiss the allegations.As expected, Justice Ben Hlatshwayo who has not been known for diligence and fairness, dismissed the application on May 12, 2007, saying there was a high likelihood that Kuruneri would abscond.

He then took his case to the Supreme Court on May 17, but Justice Elizabeth Gwaunza referred the case back to the High Court on June 4, 2007, after Kuruneri’s lawyers failed to follow appeal procedures.

Gwaunza later dismissed the appeal, saying Kuruneri could abscond if granted bail as he had vast resources outside the country which he could use to sustain himself. Kuruneri made eight unsuccessful bail applications during a 15-month stint in remand prison and at one time offered assets worth $15 billion (old value) to be freed on bail.

It was only on his ninth attempt, that he was granted bail by Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku on July 27, 2005, under stringent conditions. He was ordered to pay $50 million (old value), to surrender the title deeds for his farm in Mazowe, to transfer R1,3 million held in an offshore account into his local CBZ account and to remain under house arrest. He also surrendered his travel documents.

Kuruneri appeared before the following judges and magistrates in his long journey to freedom: Cremah Chipere, Omega Mugumbate, John Koto and Justices Ben Hlatshwayo, Elizabeth Gwaunza, Chinembiri Bhunu, Lawrence Kamocha, Charles Hungwe, Godfrey Chidyausiku and Susan Mavangira.

If anyone had confidence in the independence of the judiciary after 27 years of independence, the Kuruneri case is pregnant with lessons. Kuruneri’s lawyer, Jonathan Samkange, had this to say: "Personally, I am very pleased with this outcome. This is victory for justice."

However, is this really a victory of justice or victory of the barbarians masquerading as government officers? How can this represent a victory for justice when an innocent man can be condemned by the executive with no protection of the courts or parliament and then serve time on remand and endure the humiliation that Kuruneri had to go through for exercising his rights?

What is shocking is that the contenders for power in the confused Zimbabwean environment have not been concerned about Kuruneri because he is Zanu PF. In the pursuit of political expediency, justice is seen in political terms and this has now become acceptable as the norm in Zimbabwe even by the opposition.

It was only natural that Kuruneri had to fight his own battle with no assistance from the so-called human rights groups or even the Law Society. He remains accused of having dual citizenship, a crime that is laughable for people who know Kuruneri well. You can give Kuruneri as many citizenships as you want, but you can never take the Zimbabweanship in him.

No-one is leading a movement to scrap any laws that would make it a criminal offence to hold dual citizenship when the policies of the government have gone a long way in devaluing the meaning of what it means to be a citizen. When you observe Zimbabweans in their numbers electing to be governed by other people, then surely it follows that the citizenship law is obsolete and has ceased to serve any national purpose.

As President Mbeki continues with the election agenda, it must be obvious to many that the real deal has nothing to do with elections. If the prevailing Zimbabwean constitutional order fails to produce checks and balances as has been evident in not only Kuruneri’s matter but other matters where the government has targeted individuals for political expediency, then it must be obvious that Zimbabwe has sunk so low that maintaining the status quo will not resolve the crisis.

With the Kuruneri outcome, one would expect any rational incumbent President to appoint a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the conduct of the law enforcement agencies as well as the RBZ in what appears to be politically motivated cases that are being prosecuted at the cost of the nation as well as the victims.

Mawere is a New columnist. He lives in exile in South Africa after his businesses in Zimbabwe were expropriated by the government, including his flagship Shabanie Mashaba Mines

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