Deputy Justice Minister Obert Gutu on Question Time

SW Radio Africa journalist Lance Guma speaks to the Deputy Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Senator Obert Gutu on the programme Question Time.

Gutu responds to questions from listeners including whether perpetrators of political violence and murder will be brought to book? Why was a convicted rapist like Madzibaba Godfrey Nzira released on the recommendation of his ministry? What role will his ministry play in preparations for possible elections, especially the need to sort out the shambolic voter’s role?
 
 
Lance Guma: Hello Zimbabwe and thank you for joining us on the programme. Our guest on Question Time today is the Deputy Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Senator Obert Gutu. He of course is the MDC Senator for Chisipite in Harare. Thank you for joining us.
 
Obert Gutu: Thank you Lance, thank you listeners.
 
Guma: Now straight to the meat of the matter – your predecessor Jessie Majome complained in the past that Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa did not consult her when controversial appointment of judges were made and she did not even know about the swearing in ceremony until the last minute when she was informed by the acting deputy permanent secretary in the Ministry. Titus Gombedza in Harare wants to know if the same behaviour remains and how you would describe your relationship with Chinamasa?

Gutu: Thank you very much for that question. I believe listeners will appreciate that when the MDC led by the Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai joined or rather formed the inclusive government with ZANU PF in February 2009 it was really a first for this country and when you also appreciate that we as MDC and ZANU PF as ZANU PF are basically very ideologically different and basically we are coming from very different ideological benchmarks.
 
It was always going to be difficult to work with our ZANU PF colleagues in the same government but be that as it may for the sake of moving the country forward, we have really tried our best in these trying and difficult circumstances to deliver to the people what we think they deserve. It’s obviously really sometimes a question of personalities; I don’t want to think that I view Minister Chinamasa as my enemy, neither would I want him to view him as my friend.
 
I’m just there to do the job, I’m an employee of the party in government and what I make sure I do is just to make sure that I get myself involved in all important deliberations of the ministry. For instance, every other Wednesday I chair the departmental heads meeting of the Ministry, You know the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs is one of the biggest ministries in Zimbabwe, it actually consists of 11 departments,
 
So every other Wednesday the Deputy Minister chairs the departmental heads meeting and that gives me obviously an opportunity to go into the nitty-gritty’s of matters in each department and also to keep my pulse on what’s basically happening in each department. It actually does give me an opportunity to make sure that I’m relevant in the ministry and that I obviously can claim a role that is meaningful in our agenda of delivering change to the people.
 
Guma: But would you ever have situations where things can happen without you knowing about them?

Gutu: It sometimes happens but the style that I’ve adopted and I just want listeners to know this, its just to say look, I always make sure that any decision that is of importance obviously emanating from the ministry that I get involved, in fact I demand to be involved. It’s not really a question of they like the permanent secretary in the ministry tell me, ordinarily they would rather not tell me but my style really is just to make sure that I make myself relevant and I make sure that if I’m not advised or if I’m not informed of any important decision, I raise the issue very seriously, even at the departmental heads meeting and I just make the point clear that I’m not happy if I feel that I’m being sidelined and I’ve noted that the tendency now is to make sure that I am involved.
 
Guma: Now from Bulawayo also comes another question – over 500 people were reportedly killed in the June 2008 elections when Mugabe and ZANU PF had lost the elections in March of the same year and in March last year we saw the MDC Harare Youth Assembly demonstrating and handing over a petition demanding that perpetrators of this violence be brought to book. So the question from the listener there, that’s Qobani in Bulawayo, they want to know what is being done, particularly by your ministry, to bring some of the perpetrators of this violence to book?

Gutu: Thank you very much once again Lance for that question but I would like listeners to understand the point that we are in a government that is a so-called inclusive government which is not the most ideal kind of government or administration if you want to put it that way. The MDC is in government but it is not the government. It is very important for listeners to distinguish that we are in government but we are not the government so it’s actually a very trying and sometimes very frustrating experience where you know that we should actually have done better but because of some kind of awkward arrangement which we are in, in this inclusive government it’s very difficult.
 
For instance to have the minister of Justice playing a prominent role in seeing to it that the perpetrators of heinous acts of violence are brought to book because why as you know this also involves several other ministries, particularly the Ministry of Home Affairs which as you know is being co-ministered by two ministers, one from our party, the other one from ZANU PF and you also know that because of the control by ZANU PF of the securocracy, they control all of the security sector ministries.
 
It has been very, very difficult for us as the MDC to really deliver on that particular aspect, not because we are incompetent but because we are looking at a system that was deeply entrenched for close to two decades and trying to unravel it is not going to be a stroll in the park. We are trying our best, you can be assured that those perpetrators, one day and one day very soon, will face justice. It might not happen now, it might not happen tomorrow but sooner or later, I can assure your listeners that justice will be done and will not only be done, but will be seen to be done.
 
Because the issue we are doing the MDC came into government and it’s a government which as you know is full of acrimony between the two major partners in the government and also this acrimony, there’s mistrust and all sorts of other bad things, so I just want to reassure listeners and Zimbabweans in general that it is not because MDC has failed to deliver but it is simply because we are dealing with a deeply entrenched dictatorship here, a securocracy which obviously is not going to be unravelled in just over one day, it’s a process.
 
Guma: I suppose the irony for a lot of people is that there’s a national healing organ which has not really done much to either encourage national healing or reconciliation and then you have also a ministry like the Justice Ministry where people are expecting to get justice so either side of the coin, nothing has moved really.
 
Gutu: Lance I obviously have no mandate to speak on behalf of the organ on national healing, reconciliation and integration because obviously there are ministers who run that ministry and I’m the least person qualified to comment on the activities of that organ. Suffice to say that I want listeners to appreciate that kind of situation that we find ourselves in government.
 
The MDC is basically in control of the social sector ministries largely and you know ZANU PF is in control of all the security sector ministries – the Ministry of Intelligence, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Justice – you know you are talking of a system that was entrenched over almost two decades and quite honestly for listeners to believe that we can dismantle this system overnight, considering the amount of resistance that we meet each and every day, it’s not going to be easy.
 
We are trying our best and I believe that those people who want to check the facts, they will definitely tell you that although the situation is bad, but definitely it is better than what it was in 2008 for instance. So we are making very strategic incremental gains and I believe that we are on the right path because if we are talking of peaceful democratic change against a system that was so dictatorial, that is still dictatorial, it’s not easy to dismantle that but we are trying our best in the circumstances.
 
Guma: Cecelia Matsika in Mutare says much has been made about the compromised nature of the judiciary in the country, people feel judges and magistrates have all received some form of incentive from Mugabe’s regime and do not do their job impartially. Being a deputy minister in the ministry responsible, what’s your own assessment?

Gutu: My own assessment is that there are a lot of complaints about the judiciary ranging from corruption to political bias and in some cases downright ineptitude and incompetence so to speak but look as the deputy minister of Justice I do not want to come out into the open and take sides and say we have a bad judiciary or we have a good judiciary, let the people judge and all I can assure the people is that the position when ZANU PF was running the country in such a way that every other sector had been politicised, from the police, to the intelligence services, to the army, to the judiciary, to the civil service itself so they should not actually look at the judiciary in isolation, this is a total package.
 
A total package in the sense that every facet of human endeavour in Zimbabwe had been politicised. I mean from football, cricket, name it every facet of life has been politicised. And what we are doing really is to try and depoliticise the judiciary to a situation where the judiciary is independent, where the judiciary is well remunerated so that they are not easily tempted to embark or to fall victim to acts of corruption and it’s a process obviously, never an event.
 
We are getting there but I’m unable to really comment and say they are corrupt or they are not corrupt. Let the people be the judges but on our part or rather on my part as the deputy minister of Justice my main desire, my mission, my dream is to have a judiciary that is well remunerated, that is competent and that is impartial.
 
Guma: OK moving on to the next question, this comes from child rights activist Betty Makoni. She wants to know why a convicted rapist like Madzibaba Godfrey Nzira was pardoned last month despite serving less than half of his 20 year jail term. Presumably this was done on the recommendation of your Ministry?

Gutu: Another very good question. Lance like I said, this inclusive government – it’s a difficult animal. Someone called it half-man and half-fish. It’s an awkward creature and sometimes you don’t even know what is happening within your own ministry. I only got to know of the fact that one Godfrey Nzira had been pardoned through the media, just like any other ordinary Zimbabwean and the reason given – I also read it in the media was actually because of, on medical grounds.
 
I’m not too sure what he is suffering from, I haven’t seen the papers that recommended that he be released on medical grounds but what I am saying is that deputy minister I’m actually embarrassed and ashamed that we have instances of this nature where a convicted rapist is set free on the grounds that he is not in too good health when there are other people in prison who are also not well, not feeling well.
 
Some are actually going through the tertiary stages of HIV Aids but they haven’t been released but these are the kind of challenges we face Lance, day in, day out. Where sometimes the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing and vice versa. This is the awkwardness of this creature called the inclusive government. At the end of the day it is a difficult arrangement because you are like trying to mix oil and water and those two can’t mix as listeners will agree with me.

Guma: And also maybe it’s pertinent to point out that Madzibaba Nzira has already been deployed to campaign for ZANU PF in areas like Muzarabani so the motive comes out clear there.
 
Gutu: Yah it’s clear because I’ve heard those kinds of reports that Nzira is already on the campaign trail on behalf of ZANU PF and should that be correct then obviously it vindicates the suspicion that his pardoning was not based on medical grounds. But then that is unfortunate but that is a typical unadulterated example of the bastardisation of the rule of law.
Where somebody who has been convicted of such a serious offence or such serious offences as rape, because I believe rape is the ultimate assault on womanhood, he is then set free to go and campaign for a political party.
 
This is a sad story, it is a sad indictment in our country and I would actually just want to urge listeners to help us help ourselves because this is not just the MDC fighting dictatorship, it has to be the responsibility of every patriotic peace loving Zimbabwean wherever you are, wherever you are staying under the sun, let’s try to join hands and fight this dictatorship, together peacefully, democratically.
 
It is the end game for the dictatorship. It is dying but obviously you know the dying, or rather the kicks of the dying horse lethal but we have to keep fighting and I believe that is exactly what we are doing, fighting.
 
Guma: Still sticking with Betty Makoni, she wants to know if the victim-friendly system in the country is working given the number of abusers walking the streets freely. She cites the example of Dr Munyaradzi Kereke, advisor to the Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono who allegedly raped an 11 year old girl and was never charged, so her question is – is the victim friendly system in the country working?

Gutu: I would say yes and no. It might appear very strange but that is the precisely answer – yes and no. Like I said, you are talking of a highly politicised justice delivery system where people who happen to be politically well connected, particularly ZANU PF, sometimes literally get away with murder and these are the kinds of things that some of us are fighting against.
 
If somebody has committed an offence, you must know who they are, no matter which political party they are members of, they should be made to face justice. I agree that obviously there are instances of selective application of justice and that’s very sad. But look I want listeners to really appreciate that we are doing our best because the issue is, this is a system like I’ve said already which has been deeply entrenched, it’s a system that has become, you know ZANU PF ceases to be just a political party, it has become a way of life so for it really to just crumple like dust will need the effort of each and every peace loving and patriotic Zimbabwean.
 
This should not be the monopoly of the MDC, we are trying our best against all odds, it’s a pity that sometimes we find Zimbabweans feel that maybe we’re not doing enough but they should appreciate. I understand fully myself before I went into government but once I was part of the executive now I appreciated the practical difficulties that we come across each and every day trying to move this country forward.
 
We are trying to move the country forward, our colleagues are busy trying to move it backwards. So it becomes very difficult that’s why you find even the economic turnaround is so slow, it’s so tragic, it’s not because we are incompetent but we are facing mammoth resistance, unbelievable resistance from the old order.
 
Guma: Last year, events in the Senate to which you are a member of were dominated by the MDC boycott of the presence of provincial governors appointed unilaterally by Mugabe without consulting his coalition partners. Now Lydia Mavanga in Rusape says they missed the news on how that matter was eventually resolved so maybe you could update them on how that was resolved?

Gutu: I can actually just clarify to Lydia that the matter has not been resolved. What has happened is up till this day we are saying those ten governors are illegitimate because they were unconstitutionally and illegally appointed and so what has happened is that the prime minister has taken that particular matter challenging the illegality or rather the appointment of those governors in the High Court and to the best of my knowledge the matter is now pending.
 
I believe heads of argument have already been prepared by the prime minister’s attorneys and I think it’s just a matter of weeks before the matter is sent down for hearing in the High Court. So it was not like the matter has been resolved, it is pending resolution through the avenue of the High Court.
 
But our position as a party is that those governors remain illegitimate, we don’t recognise them but although they are coming to the Senate, we are just saying they are coming there but we don’t welcome them and they remain illegally appointed and up until the High Court disposes of this matter, we are saying let’s wait and see. The matter hasn’t been resolved, we have not accepted that they are legitimate, in fact they remain very illegitimate. So the situation really is let’s wait for the High Court and see how it determines the matter.
 
Guma: Our last question for you Senator comes from a lawyer from Harare who chose not to make his name public but all the same he wants to ask what the role of your ministry is going to be ahead of possible elections in the country? We all know there’s a Zimbabwe Electoral Commission but what role will the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs play in a possible future election?

Gutu: As you know basically the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs is, I would want to call it the ‘mother ministry’ of ZEC, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, it’s also the mother ministry of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission so basically what happens is that as the Ministry of Justice we, it is one of our primary tasks, indeed duty, to ensure that ZEC is allowed to take off the ground as an independent constitutional commission.
 
I actually think that the most critical organ in the running of free and fair elections in this country is the role that ZEC is going to play. For as long as the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is not seen to be adequately resourced, adequately capacitated and impartial we will never have a free and fair election in this matter. So as the Ministry of Justice we are trying our level best to ensure that ZEC takes off the ground.
 
They have taken off but there are a lot of challenges, I think several know that there are complaints about the voters’ roll which in my humble opinion has to be thrown out of the window and we have to start a new fresh biometric registration of voters if we are going to have a legitimate free and fair election in this country.
 
So really, the Ministry of Justice’s role, to my learned friend who has asked the question, is to play a facilitative role. We are not going to run ZEC because ZEC is supposed to be constitutionally an independent commission, ZEC is supposed to be free from manipulation by any ministry or any organ of the state including the Ministry of Justice.
 
Guma: Has there been any timetable set for the sorting out of the voters’ roll?
 
Gutu: No timetable to the best of my knowledge because as I am talking actually we are having a big workshop here in Nyanga to deal with the issues of human rights and the periodic review and we actually have the ZEC commissioner there, we actually have the chairman of ZEC, the Honourable Justice Simpson Mutambanengwe is one of the delegates at this conference so what we are just trying to do really is to capacitate this Commission.
 
At the Ministry of Justice for instance we are hosting this conference funded by the UNDP to ensure that issues of human rights are fully understood and as you know free and fair elections are part and parcel of human rights so we actually have the Zimbabwe Human Rights commissioners, all of them are here, including the chair Professor Reg Austin we actually also have members of the Zimbabwe Media Commission – the whole idea is to facilitate at the ministry that culture of human rights, a culture of democratisation so to speak.
 
So I believe we are trying our best, certainly we haven’t really done I think the best of what we could do but I believe we are on the right track, we are taking a lot of hurdles you know political hurdles to do with the Ministry of Finance etcetera, etcetera. I believe we are on the right track and we will get there.
 
Guma: Well Zimbabwe that was the deputy minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Senator Obert Gutu. He of course is also the MDC senator for Chisipite in Harare. Senator thank you so much for joining us on Question Time.
 
Gutu: Thank you very much.
 
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