Last Week’s National Assembly Debate on the Need for a “Patriotic Bill”
In the National Assembly on the 2nd March, after the opening preliminaries, the House adopted a motion by the Leader of Government Business and Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Hon Ziyambi Ziyambi, for a substantial departure from the Order Paper. This effectively superseded urgent Bills and other important Government business, to allow Hon Alum Mpofu, ZANU PF MP for Mberengwa South, seconded by Hon Togarepi [ZANU PF Chief Whip], to present a motion:
Hon Mpofu moved the motion:
“That this House:
COGNISANT that Zimbabwe’s image and national reputation are critical factors in attracting foreign investment;
CONCERNED that the negative portrayal of the country’s image and reputation has an adverse and crippling impact on the country’s economic prospects especially on tourism, investment, and the welfare of the vulnerable such as youths, women and the disabled;
ENCOURAGED that other jurisdictions, recognising the need to preserve their image and soft power in a competitive global village, have enacted laws that bar their citizens from engaging in unpatriotic activities and communication intended to denigrate the integrity of their homeland;
BUOYED by the fact that the overwhelming majority of Zimbabweans are focused on building the positive image of the country as a reforming, open, peaceful, and democratic country that is attractive to investment;
NOW THEREFORE, call upon this august House to enact a law that:
a) recognises and celebrates efforts made by Zimbabwean citizens at home and abroad to promote the country’s positive image and brand; and
b) prohibits any Zimbabwean citizen from wilfully communicating messages intended to harm the image and reputation of the country on international platforms or engaging with foreign countries with the intention of communicating messages intended to harm the country’s positive image and/or to under its integrity and reputation.”
[Note: the relevant portion of Hansard is deceptively headed “PROMOTION OF THE COUNTRY’S POSITIVE IMAGE AND BRAND”]
The ensuing debate on this motion lasted most of the sitting, which only ended at 6.45 pm. In his lengthy presentation Hon Mpofu emphasised why Zimbabwe needs a good reputation in order to re-engage with the rest of the world, but was vague on why and how a law curtailing freedom of speech and other fundamental rights would promote this and lead to investment and development. Without naming her, he quoted the words of a former opposition Senator who had just joined ZANU PF and who was obviously trying to discredit her former colleagues by saying they had made “deliberate and relentless efforts within the country to thwart efforts by the Second Republic to create unity of purpose within the country’s body politic and [they were] always putting spanners at [sic] the Second Republic’s endeavours to reengage positively with the outside world”.
In concluding Hon Mpofu posed the following question:
” …what do we do when your members of the team, when they score goals, when Knowledge Musona scores goals and Nakamba scores goals, it behooves all of us to stand up and celebrate. What should we do when team players or those people who are supposed to be team players stand up and score own goals, what in that circumstance should we do?
I rest my case.”
Seconding the motion, Hon Togarepi was more specific as to those the “patriotic Act” should target and its proposed content:
” … the imposition of sanctions by the United States, European Union, Canada, Australia et cetera was at the behest of our people. The imposition of sanctions by these countries was as a result of lobbying by certain individuals. Some deliberately went to these countries to ask for the people of Zimbabwe to be killed by way of denying us access to health, in other words you are saying we should die. These are citizens of Zimbabwe, what are we doing as a country to ensure that such people pay for exposing the people of Zimbabwe, we need to do something and it should be done now.”
He went on to refer to:
” …civic organisations that in their activities deviate from their core business and start advancing activities that destabilise the people of Zimbabwe … people come to this country, they tell us that they are social welfare organisations yet they have political agendas … if you have campaigned against Zimbabwe, the law should actually bar you from getting into any public office because you will have killed the people that you want to look after.”
“If you attack the leader of this country that has an effect when that leader goes out there to source business for this country. Nobody wants to do business with a person who from his country is called so many names. So it is very important that the media, politicians, business people and all citizens of this country understand that they are people of Zimbabwe first before their political and business interests. We are one and it is a law that we can put down today in this House on this land that will defend the interest of Zimbabwe.
Hon Mliswa, Independent MP for Norton, came next. In a brief but thoughtful contribution, he said there were more important matters for the ruling party to deal with than the Patriot Bill – such as policy inconsistency and corruption.
“Why must we be known as a Parliament which brings laws that are oppressive? I want to be on record and say, I did not come to Parliament to pass laws which are oppressive. I came to pass laws which are progressive; to see the ordinary person benefiting; to see the young child going to school and getting internet.”
Governing party MPs who supported the motion cited the United States Logan Act of 1799 [passed in response to a US citizen who had tried without official authorisation to negotiate directly with the French government in order to achieve results contrary to the policy of both the US Government and Congress] and the Patriot Act [passed in 2001, following the 9/11 terrorist bombings, to grant law enforcement agents more powers aimed at preventing terrorist attacks]. The Patriot also requires the financial industry to report various suspicious customer behaviours as a measure against terrorism-related money laundering. It was also suggested that many other countries have the sort of legislation the motion envisages, but the countries were not specified nor examples of their laws furnished.
Opposition contributions to the debate came from Hon Madzimure, Hon Mushoriwa, Hon Molokela-Tsiye, Hon Saruwaka, Hon Toffa and Hon Sikhala. All stressed that you cannot force people to be patriotic but that patriotism is the natural outcome when things in a country are right – and they pointed to things in Zimbabwe that are far from right, blaming the governing party’s conduct, under both Presidents Mugabe and Mnangagwa, for the country’s bad reputation Hon Sikhala, a lawyer, argued that the proposed legislation would infringe freedom of expression and other constitutional rights, further muddying Zimbabwe’s image. Hon Mushoriwa ended his contribution with:
“Instead of coming up with various laws to try to criminalise things that ordinarily are not supposed to be criminalised, we need to do more and serve our people. To simply say this motion is wrong is an understatement. It must be withdrawn. Hon. Members, we have more important business and things that lie before us. We have got an economy that is not performing, we have got Covid pandemic that is on us, let us put our heads together and focus on improving this country. The only way to do this is to create a good and conducive environment for every person.”
The debate was then adjourned.
The motion was not put to the vote on 2nd March and it is not clear whether the debate will be continued or if Minister Ziyambi will respond to issues raised.
It should be noted that much of what was said in introducing the motion and in the subsequent debate was what Government / the ruling party have been hinting at in one form or another for some time. It was discussed in Cabinet on 4th August 2020, purportedly on the recommendation of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission [see Post-Cabinet Press Briefing of 4th August, 2020 and Bill Watch 54/2020 of 10th August 2020]. On 27th October 2020, that day’s Post-Cabinet Press Briefing it was stated that the Cabinet had approved amendments to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act which would have a similar effect to a so-called “Patriotic Bill”.
It has been reported in the press that a Bill is drafted and waiting approval by Cabinet.