If the conviction of Swaziland’s prominent human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and The Nation magazine editor Bheki Makhubu on a contempt of court charge is anything to go by, then the Zambian fraternity should view it as a wakeup call so that they can immediately start ‘arming’ themselves with necessarily legal safeguards to avoid falling into similar pitfalls.
Mr Maseko and Mr Makhubu have been found guilty of contempt of court in relation to articles which criticised the conduct of Swaziland’s Chief Justice, Michael Ramodibedi.
The duo will remain in custody until sentencing, which has however been suspended indefinitely.
What has happened in Swaziland is no different from what would happen in Zambia.
Our constitution does not give maximum freedom to journalists to exercise their profession as carriers of information to enable ordinary citizens to make informed choices.
It is common for politicians to believe that they know it all and are in good stead to choose what information the public should consume.
It is even worse that there are institutions in our country whose holders believe they are above public scrutiny.
We have Parliament and Courts of Law which do not take kindly to criticism and would summon and sanction any one found raising his negative voice against decision some decision.
This should change as continuing to live as we have always done will never bring meaningful change to our democratic governance.
It is strange that while the fore fathers fought the colonists because of the bad laws they formulated, successive ruling political parties have adopted the archaic laws without any sense of shame.
This is what convinces us that if the political party in power cannot formulate conducive laws to level the civic and political playing fields, stakeholders themselves should take up the tasks and seek ways of ameliorating the situation.
For journalists and politicians in Zambia, the judgement in which Father Frank Bwalya was acquitted of defaming the President can be a starting point.
Kasama principal resident magistrate Vincent Siloka observed that in as much as the office of the president should be respected, the head of state is subject to criticism.
If the bench can rule that a head of State can be criticized, what of other institutions of governance such as the judiciary and the National Assembly?
We should all accept the fact that we are human and bound to err.
The judiciary and other institutions of governance comprise human beings who cannot claim unlimited wisdom.
It is through criticism that all of us reflect on our conduct or misconduct to improve our future undertakings.
It is wrong that in the midst of democratic interaction, they should be referees whose side existence is to punish others, even when the concern expressed is legitimate.
We hope the judiciary in Swaziland will exercise moral judgement and release Mr Maseko and Mr Mr Makhubu unconditionally.