The National Assembly approved the Maintenance of Peace and Order (MOPO) Bill shortly after 4am on Friday, after a marathon session which had earlier seen heated debate over a $10 billion supplementary budget presented last week.
With tempers already frayed in the House over Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube’s revised 2019 budget, which opposition lawmakers said flouted procedure and law, ZANU-PF and MDC MPs tussled over the proposed security law.
The new security law is one of the key items on President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s reform agenda.
MOPO will replace the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), which was passed in 2002 and has been held up as one of the symbols of repressive rule and a major sticking point in Zimbabwe’s attempts to re-engage with western donors.
But the new law has itself been panned by critics and the opposition as nothing more than old wine in new wine skins.
MDC vice president Tendai Biti kicked off the debate on Thursday in typical fashion, describing MOPA as a “fascist bill”.
But by the end of the 14 hour marathon, in which the loquacious lawyer, supported by Job Sikhala, Kucaca Phulu and Maxwell Mavhunga – also of the MDC – jousted with Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi, Biti was uncharacteristically complimentary of his adversary.
“Honourable Chair, can we also thank the esteemed Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs and (Deputy Attorney General Nelson) Hon Dias and his team for granting us indulgence and also for holding fort on behalf of the State,” Biti said.
“This dialogue must be a national dialogue to serve our country. So we want to thank you Minister and everyone else on the right and left side. Zikomo kwambili.”
On his part, Ziyambi also thanked the lawmakers for what he termed a wonderful job on the bill.
“I want to thank the Hon. Members and everyone. I think this was highly informative, exciting, educative and I think we have come up with certain pieces of clauses that were also problematic but we managed to bring our brains together and improve them,” Ziyambi said.
“I believe that what we have done tonight and finished this morning is a wonderful job. I want to thank all Honourable Members that have endured the whole night until now for a job well done. I think we have done justice to the Bill and I want to thank all Honourable Members, even though at times we appeared to be differing, for coming together to deal with specific clauses and improving them.”
Ziyambi, who gave as much as he took during the debate, granted minor concessions to critics of the bill, but was steadfast on the major points of contention, such as orders to prohibit certain gatherings and processions, summary trials and the President’s deployment of the army to assist in policing.
Conceding that the Constitution allows the President to deploy troops in some circumstances where law and order were under threat, Biti sought and obtained a concession.
“We submit Mr. Chairman and Hon. Minister, that this is power and discretion that should be exercised very sparingly for the simple and good reason that the responsibility of policing remains that of the civilian institution known as the Zimbabwe Republic Police,” Biti said.
“So, we propose that section 18 put a restrictive manner, a restrictive regulation before the President actually deploys so that deployment is only met in exceptional circumstances. So we therefore propose that section 18 (ii) reads as follows, we propose a restriction to subsection (ii) so that the power is exercised when there are no other options, just to put some brakes.”
The minister also gave concessions regarding circumstances where convenors of gatherings and demonstrations could carry civil liability as well as on the use of proportionate force. He also qualified and relaxed the provision on police officers requiring citizens to produce identity documents.
In the end, as in the earlier battle over the budget, the government got its way over the security bill, after a bruising battle.
Opposition lawmakers, who intermittently broke into song to voice their displeasure during the nocturnal proceedings, were left sufficiently pleased with their efforts.
Caston Matewu, the MDC MP for Marondera Central, even went on a victory lap on Twitter.
The MOPO Bill will now be transmitted to the Senate, where it is expected to be passed without much incident.