Chiwenga appointment as Defence minister unconstitutional: Veritas

LEGAL think-tank Veritas has described Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga’s appointment as Defence minister as unconstitutional, adding this should be reversed when President-elect Emmerson Mnangagwa appoints his new Cabinet.

BY MTHANDAZO NYONI

Soon after his inauguration last November, Mnangagwa appointed Chiwenga, who had led the soft coup on former President Robert Mugabe, as Defence and War Veterans Affairs minister.

But in a statement yesterday, Veritas said the move was unconstitutional.

“A further point is that Vice-President Chiwenga is appointed as Minister of Defence, and his entitlement to hold that portfolio is open to challenge since section 215 of the Constitution states that the President must appoint a Minister — not a Vice-President — to be responsible for the Defence Forces,” Veritas said.

Chiwenga’s appointment was announced through a Press statement last December, but he was not legally assigned the duties.

Meanwhile, Veritas slammed the killing of civilians last Wednesday by army personnel.

Last Wednesday, the army was deployed to quell an MDC Alliance protest over Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s delay in announcing presidential poll results.

The army was called in to assist the police quash the riots and gunfire was heard in Harare city centre, resulting in seven people losing their lives and many injured.

“Obviously, the defence forces should not be deployed lightly. Their members are trained to kill rather than to use peaceful means of persuasion,” Veritas said.

“They are the ultimate coercive arm of the State, to be used only as a last resort when gentler ways of compelling citizens to obey the law have failed. That is why the Constitution reserves to the President the right to order their deployment.”

According to reports, the army was called in at the instance of the police in terms of section 37 of the Public Order and Security Act (Posa), but Veritas said the section does not mention the President at all, and seems to give the Defence minister power to deploy without consultations.

“It is unlikely that the deployment was, in fact, ordered by the minister without involving the President, but if that is what happened, then the deployment was illegal. If, on the other hand, the President did, in fact, authorise the deployment, then it was lawful under the Constitution regardless of any deficiency in section 37 of the Public Order and Security Act or any defect in Vice-President Chiwenga’s appointment,” Veritas said.

The legal think-tank said whether the members of the defence forces were trying to restore order on the authority of the President under section 213 of the Constitution or on the authority of the Defence minister under section 37 of Posa, in either event, they were bound to obey the law, like everyone else in Zimbabwe.

“While they can use whatever reasonable force is needed to quell a riot, they are not entitled to kill anyone because the right to life is inviolable under the Constitution,” it said.