ZIMBABWE’S CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM: Beyond Arrests, Towards a Just Society

The criminal justice system, encompassing the police, the courts, and corrections, carries the immense responsibility of upholding the law, safeguarding the public, detaining suspected lawbreakers, and curbing crime. It must not merely focus on apprehending, prosecuting, and punishing criminals; its broader mission is to prevent crime and cultivate a harmonious, law-abiding society. Regrettably, Zimbabwe’s law enforcement community has faltered in this pursuit.

In Zimbabwe, the once-apolitical criminal justice system has undergone a troubling transformation. Its rhetorical incapacitation, marked by politically motivated arrests and biased adjudications, has become a tool for human rights abuse. Instead of combating social, political, and economic oppression, it now oppresses those who dare to challenge injustice. This departure from its intended purpose obstructs the construction and preservation of a just, equitable society, where equality is enshrined as a fundamental principle.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has raised its voice, urging the Zimbabwean government to cease using the controversial charge of “subverting a constitutional government” to persecute human rights defenders exercising their fundamental freedoms, as guaranteed by international and domestic law. Arnold Tsunga, ICJ’s Africa Director, declared, “The oppressive and retaliatory use of law by the government violates the rule of law and human rights, as guaranteed in the Zimbabwean Constitution and international human rights treaties.”

Last year, Zimbabwean police arrested and detained Hopewell Chin’ono, an award-winning journalist, and Jacob Ngarivhume, leader of the political group Transform Zimbabwe, on charges of inciting public violence. Their arrests followed their efforts to expose high-level corruption in Zimbabwe and advocate for nationwide anti-corruption protests on July 31. While they languished in custody, former Social Welfare Minister Petronella Kagonye, facing multiple charges, was readily granted bail. The justice system’s current stance impedes transparency, accountability, good governance, and liberal democracy, as these arrests flagrantly violate the constitution.

The alarming growth of the prison population spotlights a pressing issue within the criminal justice system. Without effective population control measures, the system risks devolving into a de facto slavery farm. The dire conditions at Chikurubi Maximum Prison exemplify the system’s brutality, particularly against its own citizens. These inhumane practices appear to be a political weapon against perceived enemies of the state. Political activist Jacob Sikhala’s experience after his release highlights the appalling sanitation facilities and abysmal conditions endured by prisoners. Instead of serving as rehabilitation centers, prisons now seem to perpetuate the cycle of criminality.

In Zimbabwe, legal accountability and the rule of law have eroded significantly under the ZANU-PF government’s interference in the criminal justice system. Victims of human rights abuses, predominantly MDC supporters, continue to be denied justice and redress. Meanwhile, perpetrators of these abuses often evade prosecution due to their ties to ZANU-PF. This toxic culture traces back to the Gukurahundi massacre in the 1980s and persists today. The erosion of key justice institutions poses a grave threat to the public’s well-being and calls for urgent reform to restore normalcy and uphold human rights.

The forced eviction of the white minority from farms in the early 2000s stands as a stark testament to injustice. White Zimbabweans were dispossessed of their property in the name of resource nationalization, with little regard for the rule of law. The erosion of constitutionalism at the hands of the ruling elite has allowed for unchecked power plays. The controversial appointment of a Vice President without the required medical expertise raises questions about the government’s manipulation of Zimbabwean law. The judiciary’s silence on the matter underscores the justice system’s ineffectiveness in upholding constitutional principles and holding the elite accountable.

In Zimbabwe, the criminal justice system’s deviation from its intended purpose has given rise to alarming consequences. It is imperative that the system rediscovers its mission of preventing crime, upholding justice, and fostering a society where equality and the rule of law prevail. Only then can Zimbabweans truly enjoy the freedoms and protections guaranteed by their constitution.

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