Rights Groups, Opposition Stage Online Protest Against Constitutional Amendments

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ZIMBABWEAN opposition and rights groups have held an online protest against proposed constitutional amendments that would allow the president to handpick top judges.  Thousands of people viewed the Thursday night rally, which was streamed online to avoid arrests amid a coronavirus lockdown and ban on public gatherings.

Stanley Gwanzura – better known as Pastor G, a Zimbabwean gospel musician – sang “It Shall Be Well” as the opposition and rights groups started the online “rally” Thursday evening.

Jestina Mukoko, a director of a rights NGO named the Zimbabwe Peace Project, was one of the organizers of the #ResistDictatorshipConstitution rally.

“Should we just allow a few people to amend the constitution? As Zimbabweans, should we allow ourselves to be short-changed? It removes the tenets that we want to aspire to get to as Zimbabweans: democracy, transparency, and accountability. If these amendments are allowed to take root, it means what we will have at the end is a dictatorship and this is why we are saying #ResistDictatorshipConstitution,” Mukoko said.

The three-hour-plus online rally sought to mobilise Zimbabweans to stop President Emmerson Mnangagwa from signing the amendments into law.

The amendments, passed by parliament Tuesday, would allow the president to appoint judges to the Constitutional, Supreme and High Courts without lawmakers’ approval. The president would also choose his two vice presidents without an election and be able to delay the retirement of the chief justice by five years.

Critics are accusing the ruling Zanu PF party of seeking to undermine the judiciary.

Among those who took part in Thursday’s protest was 22-year-old Namatai Kwekweza, who is already facing charges of holding a protest last year against the amendments.

She said young Zimbabweans must “rise up against” the movement to amend the constitution, which was hailed as progressive by most countries in 2013.

”These people are authoring standards by which Zimbabweans in 2013 agreed to be governed. They are authoring those standards without the consent of the people. The people of this country would have said no. The lockdown was taken advantage [of]. They knew the civil society, the opposition could not mobilize, because we were under the lockdown,” Kwekweza said.

Tafadzwa Mugwadi, director of information for Zanu PF, said the removal of a running mate clause was meant to ensure a president can chose his vice presidents and ensure stability of the government.  On hand-picking judges, Mugwadi said the procedure is not without precedent.

“The process of appointment of Supreme Court judges in the United States of America is no different from the framework that has been put in place. This is what happens across jurisdictions. The point that I am trying to make is not to say we are trying to follow the United States of America on this issue but the justice delivery system is a technical task that requires maturity, wisdom and experience,” he said.

But contrary to Mugwadi’s comparison, in the U.S., presidents nominate Supreme Court justices but they must win approval in the Senate.

Along with the online protesters, the amendments have been condemned on social media by the main opposition party the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance, and its leader, Nelson Chamisa.

However, the president is expected to sign the bill in the next few days.