President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has been accused of undermining the rule of law following the decision by the Cabinet to maintain the ban on all unvaccinated congregants from attending church services.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Truth, Health, Justice and Freedom (ZLTHJF) said the decision by the Cabinet is an affront to the constitution and sets bad precedence likely to undermine the rule of law.
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Last week the High Court said unvaccinated congregants are free to attend in-person church services but on Tuesday Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services minister, Monica Mutsvangwa, announced that the ban still exists despite the High Court order. She said:
Whilst all other gatherings shall not exceed 100 persons, with regards to churches, cabinet has resolved that only vaccinated congregants can attend and should be limited to 50 per cent of the holding capacity of the church.
In response to the Cabinet decision, ZLTHJF on Wednesday issued a cautionary statement warning Mnangagwa to stop his contemptuous conduct. ZLTHJF said:
We take great exception to this unlawful and contemptuous position taken by Cabinet and point out that in our law a litigant who is aggrieved with a decision must take legal steps against that decision and not seek to undermine the court order or threaten unlawful action against the successful litigant.
The position taken by Cabinet in this regard poses a serious threat to justice and the rule of law in Zimbabwe and conveys a wrong message to all those who uphold constitutionality and constitutionalism.
We must state that the position taken by Cabinet is now in clear violation of the court order issued by the High Court on 9 September 2021.
The court order was clear that unvaccinated congregants cannot be barred from attending physical church meetings.
Addressing the media after a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Mutsvangwa said only vaccinated congregants were allowed to attend church and increased the permissible number at other public gatherings to 100.
The government said churches can now carry 50% of their usual capacity on any given day if their congregants were vaccinated.
Some churches are big enough to accommodate 15 000 congregants and have now been given the green light to have 7 500 vaccinated congregants.
Meanwhile, Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Permanent Secretary Nick Mangagwana on Thursday dismissed claims that the Cabinet was in contempt of court. Mangwana tweeted:
The Interim Order was issued on the basis that after the pronouncement of the 11 of August, Govt did not follow that up by gazetting the Regulations.
However, Govt has since rectified the anomaly by publishing SI228B of 2021, not in defiance of the Court but in Obedience to it.