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2 NGOs Attempting to Block Public Hearings on Proposed Constitutional Amendments Over COVID-19 Fears

High Court of Zimbabwe
High Court of Zimbabwe

The High Court will on Monday preside over the hearing and determination of two urgent chamber applications filed by two advocacy groups seeking to stop parliament from conducting public hearings in Zimbabwe on some proposed amendments of the constitution when the country is under a coronavirus COVID-19 lockdown.

In a statement, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said in Bulawayo, High Court Judge Justice Nokuthula Moyo will hear an urgent chamber application filed by Habakkuk Trust seeking an interdict barring Parliament, Clerk of Parliament Kennedy Chokuda and Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Hon. Ziyambi Ziyambi from holding public meetings in Bulawayo or anywhere in Zimbabwe scheduled to begin tomorrow and ending on Friday to discuss amendments to the Constitution until the health pandemic and resultant national lockdown caused by coronavirus currently afflicting Zimbabwe is over.

In an urgent chamber application filed on Thursday 11 June 2020 by Job Sibanda of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), Habakkuk Trust represented by its Chief Executive Officer Dumisani Nkomo, argued that Zimbabwe is currently facing a health pandemic which had necessitated the imposition of a national lockdown, where public gatherings were virtually banned to try and curb the spread of coronavirus.

Habakkuk Trust argued that by conducting public hearings to discuss some proposed amendments to the Constitution, Parliament, Chokuda and Ziyambi were putting the health of the public at risk at a time of the coronavirus pandemic.

The conduct of Parliament, Chokuda and Ziyambi, Habakkuk Trust said, “is grossly unreasonable and holding public hearings at a time of the outbreak of coronavirus would defeat the very noble purpose of inviting the input of the public to any proposed constitutional amendments.”

According to the human rights group, Habakkuk Trust said while the process of soliciting for input into the proposed constitutional amendments cannot be stopped, it must await normalisation of the situation in the country and no prejudice will be suffered by the respondents namely Parliament, Chokuda and Ziyambi.

“The process of soliciting for people’s input into the proposed constitutional amendments,” Habakkuk Trust said, “should be stopped and only proceeded with after the country shifts to Level 1 stage of the national lockdown, which is the period which prevailed before the outbreak of coronavirus and before a State of Disaster was declared by government in March.”

Alternatively, Habakkuk argued that if Parliament, Chokuda and Ziyambi intend to proceed with the public hearings in the midst of the current health pandemic, “they must ensure that all precautions are taken to prevent and contain the disease at such public gatherings.”

In Harare, High Court Judge Justice David Mangota will on Tuesday hear and make a determination on an urgent chamber application filed by Chitungwiza and Manyame Residents Association (CAMERA) and Alice Kuvheya, a resident of Chitungwiza seeking an order to stop Parliament, Speaker of Parliament Jacob Mudenda, Senate President Mabel Chinomona and Attorney-General Advocate Prince Machaya from conducting public hearings on some proposed amendments to the Constitution.

The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said in the application, which was filed last Wednesday by Tonderai Bhatasara of ZLHR, CAMERA and Kuvheya argued that conducting public hearings at a time when the country is reporting increased numbers of people testing positive to coronavirus “is a negation of the efforts being done by those committed to arresting the spread of the pandemic and is also an abrogation of the purpose and spirit of provisions contained in section 141 and 328 of the Constitution.”

CAMERA and Kuvheya argued that Parliament, Mudenda, Chinomona and Advocate Machaya have not indicated any measures that they have put in place in order not to breach the coronavirus regulations and citizens’ constitutional rights.

The residents association and Kuvheya said there is a real danger of the accelerated spread of coronavirus if the public hearings are held at a time of the outbreak of the pandemic.

CAMERA and Kuvheya wants the proposed public hearings to be declared to be in contravention of section 56, 67, 141 and 328 of the Constitution as well as Statutory Instrument 83/2020 as read with Statutory 199/2020 as further read with Statutory 110/2020.

The proposed public hearings, CAMERA and Kuvheya said, should be postponed until such a time when the national lockdown has been lifted and when there is no longer a health threat of coronavirus.

Proposed amendments include the removal of a constitutional clause of running mates in presidential elections.