By Mthulisi Mathuthu
SW Radio Africa
13 June 2014
The Constitutional Court has unanimously ruled against the criminal defamation law, saying it is not justifiable in a democratic society.
The court further invited Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa to defend the law, if he so wishes, before a final declaration is made. However it is unlikely that Mnangagwa will do so because two months ago he urged journalists to approach the same court if they wanted the law struck down. He said until they had done so the government was going to continue to use the law.
On Thursday Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku and eight other ConCourt judges agreed with former Standard editor Nevanji Madhanire and reporter Nqaba Matshazi that criminal defamation was unconstitutional.
The pair approached the ConCourt seeking the repeal of the law from the statues arguing that it was unconstitutional. Both journalists were being charged with criminally defaming Green Card medical aid firm chairperson Munyaradzi Kereke.
Justice Chidyausiku said Madanhire and Matshazi had successfully demonstrated that the offence of criminal defamation is not justifiable in a democratic society. The court said the right of bringing a civil suit for damages in the event of defamation was enough and it was ‘not necessary’ to criminalise the offence.
Chidyausiku said the media have a role to expose wrong doings that impinge upon the rights of citizens and as such it is ‘inconceivable’ that a newspaper could do that ‘without defaming one person or another.’
MDC-T Shadow Minister of communications Nelson Chamisa, who has previously clashed with Mnangagwa over the discredited law, said the ruling was a ‘vindication’ for the activists’ efforts. He said: ‘It was obvious to us that to continue to use that law was akin to criminalising the noble profession of journalism itself. So we are vindicated.’
The MP for Kuwadzana added: ‘The executive is moving very slowly in trying to align the laws with the new Constitution and so now we are beginning to see some kind of judicial activism which may force them to act. We need to see more of that.’
However Chamisa said while the Court may have acted in good faith the ZANU PF government may seize the moment to manipulate the ruling to boost its ongoing drive to project itself as reformist. He warned the government against any such move saying the world would see through the ploy because ‘fundamental reforms across the board’ are still required.