Story by Rufaro Mufundirwa
The opening of a permanent High Court in Zimbabwe’s oldest city of Masvingo by the Judiciary Service Commission (JSC) is a long overdue move, which is nevertheless creditable.
The High Court was opened last week, making it the first post-independence superior court in Zimbabwe. The last time such a court was opened was in 1894, 122 years in Bulawayo. The decentralization of the justice delivery system to Masvingo is set to profit residents in Masvingo province in particular and generally the whole country.
That reminds this writer of the late Vice President, Dr Simon Muzenda who was a target of side-splitting jokes. In one of the jokes, Dr Mzee, as he was affectionately known, was officially opening Masvingo prison. In his speech, he said ; “Jere iri ravikirwa imi vanhu vekuMasvingo, zvamuri imi muchatangirwa kushandisa jeri renyu nevanhu vabva Mashonaland, Matebelaland, Midlands and Manicaland. (This prison is for you people from Masvingo, I hope you will occupy it before the people from other provinces).”
We wonder what he would have the joke this time around with the new High court in his home town. “Zvamurimi vanhu veMasvingo motangigwazve kupinda muHigh Court nevanhu vanobva kunemamwe maprovinces. Kurudziranai mupare mhosva dzinokodzera kupinda muHigh Court kwete tunongoperera kwamagistrate,” one imaginative friend puts it. May his soul rest in peace, for he was indeed the soul of the nation.
However, in the absence of such an advice from Dr Mzee, the new High Court will be of great service, not only to the people of Masvingo province but those from as far as Beitbridge in Matebeleland South, parts of Manicaland and Midlands provinces. This is because of its central location.
Prior to the opening of the new High Court, people incurred costs while travelling to Harare and Bulawayo. A lot of resources and time were wasted, forcing some complainants and witnesses to shun the system. The situation was worsened by the congested rolls at the two High Courts. A case could be postponed several times and the more it was deferred the more resources and time were wasted. Such will be history for the people of Masvingo.
The opening of the High Court in Masvingo will deter criminals in that province from committing heinous crimes such as murder. Masvingo has currently the highest murder cases in the country. As Vice President Emmerson Munangagwa noted, cases will be expeditiously heard and offenders will also quickly serve their sentences and subsequently get released.
The decentralization of the High Court to Masvingo will also decongest the Khami and Chikurubi maximum prisons. As of last year in July, Chikurubi Maximum prison held 2270 prison inmates against its holding capacity of 1360. That translates to 69.9% overcrowding. Khami prison is also way above its holding capacity.
The decentralization of the High Court should go with the upgrading of Mutimurefu prison so that it will be able to absorb inmates who will be offloaded from Khami and Chikurubi prisons.
Overcrowding at was found to be one of the contributing factors that caused the riots that occurred at Chikurubi Maximum prison last year. With the right numbers of prison inmates, such problems could be avoided.
We, however, beseech government to continue with the decentralization drive until every province has a High Court. People from other provinces are still shortchanged in as far as justice delivery system is concerned. The decentralization must not only be realized in the judiciary system but in many other administrative systems. We even want to see some ministry headquarters being shifted to other provincial capitals. Even Parliament can be relocated to another city or at least sit in various cities on rotational bases.
Such decentralization will decongest Harare in many ways. At the moment, every youth heads for Harare upon completion of secondary or tertiary education. The Midlands State University (MSU) is one institution that needs a pat on the back for decentralizing its study programmes. Some of its programmes are being studied from Zvishavane, Harare and Mutare. This is the way to go because Harare is not Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe is not Harare.