Just over 17 years ago, on the 25th October 2000, I was present in the House of Assembly when the late (and great) Gibson Sibanda tabled the first impeachment motion against Robert Mugabe. The Speaker then was none other than Emmerson Mnangagwa who ensured that the petition just faded away. The Committee set up to investigate the allegations leveled against Robert Mugabe never sat.
Amongst others, both Patrick Chinamasa and Jonathan Moyo rubbished the petition as “frivolous and vexatious”. I suppose that Moyo would say the same now but Chinamasa has changed his tune.
How different would the lives of Zimbabweans have been if Mugabe had been impeached then, as he should have been. Whatever the case I think Mugabe is going to be given short shrift in the new impeachment proceedings started in Parliament today.
Here is an excerpt from my book “The Struggle Continues: 50 years of tyranny in Zimbabwe” which describes what happened.
“The Clemency Order made by Mugabe was the final straw for the MDC. The violence meted out against our members was bad enough, but the realisation that Mugabe was determined to ensure that none of the perpetrators faced justice deeply angered us all. The MDC national executive met on 16 October and I was mandated, as legal secretary, to draft a parliamentary petition to impeach Mugabe. We always knew that it was purely symbolic: while the constitution only required one third of MPs to initiate impeachment proceedings, it required two thirds to complete the process, something we knew would never happen. However, we were desperate to make a point that Mugabe’s conduct the entire year had been unacceptable. The constitution allowed three grounds for impeachment: wilful violation of the constitution, physical or mental incapacity, or gross misconduct. Citing Mugabe’s brazen support of the military who ignored court rulings in the 1999 Choto/ Chavunduka journalist case, his failure to uphold judgments in land cases, and his inflammatory speeches inciting violence, we argued that he had wilfully violated the constitution. The petition recorded some of his statements and listed 35 MDC members or supporters who had been murdered in 2000. To show that he was guilty of gross misconduct we focused on his “systematic abuse of the prerogative of mercy”, his decision to deploy Zimbabwean troops in the DRC and his “failure to deal with corruption”.
All 58 MDC MPs then signed the petition, which was presented to the speaker and tabled in parliament on 25 October. ZANU PF leader of the house Chinamasa was apoplectic when Sibanda spoke, but Mnangagwa kept his cool, advising that he would set up a committee, in terms of the constitution, to investigate the matter and report back to parliament. Mnangagwa’s sting was in the tail – he directed that the “document not be published and any media which publish it will be in contempt of law”. Chinamasa latched onto that and in a menacing tone made “it very clear that if there is any publication of this document in the newspapers I will move to hold those newspapers in contempt of this Parliament”.
The petition was never published in Hansard and while a committee was set up (which included me), it never met. We had posted the document on the internet before Mnangagwa’s ruling and the Daily News bravely published large extracts from it the next day. Mnangagwa subsequently ruled that the Daily News was in contempt of parliament but, probably fearing that contempt proceedings would bring unwanted public attention to the contents of the petition, no further action was taken against the newspaper. They had other more effective ways of silencing the newspaper altogether.
Although both Chinamasa and Jonathan Moyo described the petition as “frivolous and vexatious”, ZANU PF was deeply embarrassed by it. Mnangagwa went to the extreme length of ejecting the British and South African ambassadors who had come to listen, Richard Longworth and Jeremiah Ndou, from the Speakers’ Gallery on the flimsy grounds that they were there without his knowledge. As Sibanda tabled the petition ZANU PF organised hundreds of its supporters to stage a demonstration outside parliament. Mugabe later addressed thousands of supporters outside ZANU PF headquarters, furiously advising that government was “considering revoking the policy of reconciliation so that those involved in war crimes during Zimbabwe’s war of liberation stand trial”. As he was wont to do, Mugabe reverted to race – “Ian Smith and his fellow whites committed genocide” and would “stand trial for their crimes”. He went on to observe that “in Europe they (were) still hunting for those behind Nazi war crimes and Zimbabwe (could not) be an exception”. Chillingly, he concluded by generically focusing again on Mike Auret and me, saying, “They (i.e. whites) must take note that the Coltarts and Aurets and the rest of them will not be free from arrest.” While inflamed by the impeachment petition Mugabe didn’t mention it once. It was clear, though, that he held me responsible for it; as author he was in one sense correct, but in every other sense he was wrong because it reflected a deep-rooted fury within the MDC.”