'New Censorship Board unconstitutional'

HARARE - The new Censorship Board installed by Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo is not provided for in the new Constitution, legal experts said yesterday.

The new Board of Censors will be led by former Cabinet minister, educationist and historian Aeneas Chigwedere, who will be deputised by Konzani Ncube and would serve for five years instead of the previous three.

Other members are President Robert Mugabe’s daughter Bona Mugabe-Chikore, police senior assistant commissioner Charity Charamba, Runyararo Magadzire, Chief Nyamukoho, Samson Katsande, Regis Chikowore, Shingai Rukwata Ndoro, Chenjerai Daitai, Tungamirai Muganhiri and Catholic priest Father Fidelis Mukonori.

While Chombo claimed the appointment was in terms of the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act Chapter 10: 4, legal experts said the Censorship Board was not recognised in the new Constitution adopted in a 2013 referendum.

Co-chair in the constitution making body Copac, Douglas Mwonzora, said the appointment of the board was meant to stifle freedom of expression.

“The Constitution does not provide for that,” Mwonzora told the Daily News.

“This is a body that has been in existence for a long time and reflects on the closed democratic space we have. Having looked at the partisan appointment of the board, it shows how the government wants to close in on freedom of expression.”

University of Kent law professor Alex Magaisa said in a Facebook post: “There is no Censorship Board in the Constitution.”

According to section 61 of the Constitution:  “Every person has the right to freedom of expression, which includes... freedom to seek, receive and communicate ideas and other information; freedom of artistic expression and scientific research and creativity;  and  ...academic freedom.”

But Chombo told a news conference after announcing the board that its mandate is the prohibition of public entertainment which may have the potential to undermine morality, public order and peace. It will also deal with nudity and indelicate sexual situation.

“It is a well-known fact that the Constitution of Zimbabwe has a provision for freedom of artistic expression, cultural beliefs and association,” he said.

“However, the same Constitution through the Act of Parliament empowers the Board of Censors to ensure that these freedoms are reasonably limited so that they do not infringe on other people’s rights.

“In today’s environment where there is heightened scrutiny by members of the public, Internet and social media use, you are going to be faced by many challenges in administering the Act.”

Magaisa said the Censorship Board is one of the enduring symbols of repression, rooted deep in colonial history.

“The Censorship Board was established in the wake of Ian Douglas Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) for the sole purpose of censoring and restricting free speech,” Magaisa said.

“I’m told that the Rhodesian Herald used to publish copies with empty spaces, reflecting stories that the Censorship Board would have censored.

“When Zimbabwe got independence in 1980, the new Prime Minister, Robert Mugabe inherited Smith’s entire machinery of repression, including the Censorship Board. He has used it to great effect over the years, for personal benefit.

“It is therefore ironic that the first public job that Mugabe has given to his daughter, Bona..., is to be a board member of the Censorship Board. It is a false step for one so young, joining an enduring symbol of repression. One might just about imagine old Smithy turning in his grave, with a mischievous smirk on his face.”

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