Artuz stands firm in Zanu PF abuse of school children case

HARARE - The High Court will today hear an application by the Association of Rural Teachers Unions of Zimbabwe (Artuz) seeking an order that the court’s interdict stopping misuse of schools and abuse of schoolchildren for election purposes should remain in force pending the hearing of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s appeal.

This comes after the Masvingo High Court ruled on June 28 that political parties should not abuse learners, teachers and school property in pursuit of private political interests.

Mnangagwa, through his ruling Zanu PF, appealed to the Supreme Court, suspending the court order, leaving schools vulnerable.

Settled practice at common law is that an appeal to a higher court suspends the decision of the lower courts.

Artuz has since filed an urgent chamber application for leave to execute pending appeal, or to enforce the court order until the Supreme Court hears Mnangagwa’s appeal.

The case has been set down at 10am today at the Masvingo High Court before Justice Martin Mafusire.

Prominent human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa is representing Artuz.

Zanu PF has not yet filed opposing papers but have indicated that they intend to oppose.

In the meantime, Mnangagwa’s Supreme Court appeal has now been set down for a hearing on July 27, three days before the harmonised elections.

The provisional interdict issued by the Masvingo High Court prohibited Zanu PF from forcing schoolchildren to attend rallies, causing the closure of schools for any of its rallies or activities, compelling teachers to attend rallies, to wear party regalia, to prepare performances for children to deliver at rallies, or to make contributions towards rallies; holding rallies on school premises and using school property for political purposes.

The court also prohibited the Primary and Secondary Education minister and his officials from assisting political parties in any of the above activities.

The minister was also ordered by the High Court to take active measures, including the making of regulations, to prevent political parties from abusing school property, staff and schoolchildren.

The High Court’s decision won plaudits from the United Nations, which said it was in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that the best interests of the child must be the paramount consideration in every situation and at all times.

“The UN emphasises schools must be havens of safety and children must continue to have uninterrupted access to basic social services,” the UN said in a statement.

In his grounds of appeal, Mnangagwa said the judge erred in proceeding with the matter notwithstanding several glaring defects in the Artuz application where mandatory provisions of the rules were not complied with.

“The learned judge in the court a quo misdirected himself granting the interdict against the appellant in circumstances where there was no evidence linking the same with the alleged infraction other that an erroneous construction that conflates the party and the State,” the appeal said.

“The learned judge in the court a quo misdirected himself granting the interdict when the 1st (Artuz) and 2nd respondents Artuz president Obert Masaraure) failed to satisfy most of the trite requirements for one.

“The learned judge in the lower court misdirected himself by placing reliance on a manifestly unreliable and contradictory report which was almost a year old and had little or no probative value.

“The learned judge in the lower court misdirected himself by ignoring glaring evidence of misrepresentation and exaggeration in the 1st and 2nd respondents’’ papers which had tainted their application.”

Mnangagwa further said the judge erred in granting the interim relief as sought “despite dearth of evidence that the appellant had engaged in any form of compulsion, threats or duress towards any children or teachers to attend their rallies or had forcibly commandeered school buses to ferry their supporters to rallies or had used school premises to hold their rallies.”

“The learned judge in the lower court misdirected himself by making the appellants jointly liable and responsible for the enforcement of an order in an institution they have negligible or no control over thus rendering the order impossible of fulfilment by the appellants or at mots brutum fulmen (a meaningless thunderbolt or an empty threat or an ineffectual legal judgment.)”

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