Mnangagwa Accused Of Contempt Of Court

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By James Muonwa

THE decision by government to maintain the ban on all unvaccinated congregants from attending church services is an affront to the constitution and sets a bad precedence likely to undermine the rule of law, a human rights group has said.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Truth, Health, Justice and Freedom (ZLTHJF) has come out guns blazing attacking President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Cabinet of violating last week’s High Court order allowing unvaccinated congregants to attend sit-in church sermons.

ZLTHJF took aim at cabinet following Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services minister, Monica Mutsvangwa’s announcement Tuesday that the ban still exists despite the High Court order.

Mutsvangwa revealed that cabinet resolved to maintain its decision not to allow unvaccinated congregants to attend church services, in defiance of a last week’s High Court order stating that those not vaccinated against Covid-19 can now attend church services, with the police barred from arresting them.

Mutsvangwa said the minister’s council had resolved that only vaccinated congregants were allowed to attend church and increased the permissible number at other public gatherings to 100.

Government said churches can now carry 50% of their usual capacity at any given day if their congregants were vaccinated.

“Whilst all other gatherings shall not exceed 100 persons, with regards to churches, cabinet has resolved that only vaccinated congregants can attend and should be limited to 50 percent of the holding capacity of the church,” Mutsvangwa said.

Some churches are big enough to accommodate 15 000 congregants and have now been given the greenlight to have 7 500 vaccinated congregants.

In response to the Cabinet decision, ZLTHJF on Wednesday issued a cautionary statement warning Mnangagwa to stop his contemptuous conduct.

“We take great exception to this unlawful and contemptuous position taken by Cabinet and point out that in our law a litigant who is aggrieved with a decision must take legal steps against that decision and not seek to undermine the court order or threaten unlawful action against the successful litigant.

“The position taken by Cabinet in this regard poses a serious threat to justice and the rule of law in Zimbabwe and conveys a wrong message to all those who uphold constitutionality and constitutionalism,” said the lawyers’ body led by Obert Kondongwe.

Added ZLTHJF, “We must state that the position taken by Cabinet is now in clear violation of the court order issued by the High Court on 9 September 2021.

“The court order was clear that unvaccinated congregants cannot be barred from attending physical church meetings.”

The executive arm of government was now threatening the principle of separation of powers that also reposes autonomy in the judiciary and legislature.

“The position by Cabinet is not only unlawful and discriminatory, but now borders on contempt of a court order.

“It also contains threats to judicial independence which are unacceptable in a democratic nation and are inconsistent with the doctrine of separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution,” ZLTHJF said.

Government has also taken a stance blocking its unvaccinated employees from reporting for duty, a move likely to have negative repercussions on schools which recently reopened with just 5% of teachers having been vaccinated.