The John Oliver Manyarara Memorial Lecture for 2012 was delivered by Justice S.K. Sibanda, a day after the 21st anniversary of World Press Freedom Day (3 May 2012) at the Bulawayo (Zimbabwe) Rainbow Hotel.
The full transcript follows:
Justice, Freedom and Humanity
Delivered by Justice S.K. Sibanda
Manyarara family, Members of the bench, MISA Trustees, board and members, Journalists here present, Members of the legal fraternity, Civil society here present, Bulawayo residents, Ladies and gentlemen.
I am honoured to stand before you as the guest of honour at this special occasion to celebrate the life of a luminary, a champion and studious advocate of justice and human rights.
Justice Manyarara was not only passionate about justice delivery but a firm believer in the p romotion and protection of basic civil liberties. He did not only fight for these freedoms in the country but straddled across borders. Ladies and gentlemen, it his struggle for justice for humanity that saw him serve people of this region, including Namibia where he passed on.
Manyarara family, this gathering is testament that you indeed were blessed to have such a great man within your midst who has left indelible marks in the region’s fight for justice and human rights.
Ordinarily, I would have said we are sad that we did not spend as much time as you did with him. But I doubt if that would be true considering the amount of time he spent in the regional trenches fighting for justice for all.
What makes this day even more important in celebrating the life of this giant in the regional justice delivery system is that it comes just a day after the world commemorated Press Freedom day. This day was set aside to celebrate strides made in protecting and developing a free and democratic media space. It is trite to note, ladies and gentlemen, that this day was founded upon the Windhoek Declaration of 1991, a document that is now part of key elaborations of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
As we gather here we should all be proud that Justice Manyarara was a founding leader of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), an organisation established on the basis of that landmark Windhoek Declaration. The role that MISA has played in influencing the promotion of freedom of expression and access to information for regional citizens through free and pluralistic media only serves to illustrate Justice Manyarara and his colleagues’ resilience and unwavering belief on the value of freedom of expression in a democracy.
It did not matter that the terrain they fought for media freedom was littered with all manner of obstacles. He and his team at the helm of MISA were not cowed by those in public office who have never hidden their hatred of a free media. They soldiered on!
His stubborn fight for justice and the protection of fundamental freedoms contributed in the adoption of explicit constitutional guarantees for a free Press and access to information in the region.
Countries such as Mozambique and South Africa stand as examples. Sadly, his own home country is still to provide a constitutional shield to protect the full enjoyment of these basic liberties!
Not only have the region witnessed strides in the protection of a free Press, but it has also witnessed a proliferation of private radio stations, including those that are community owned and run.
Although Zimbabwe still falls short on this score, this would not have come easy had people like Justice Manyarara given up the fight.
Ladies and gentlemen, as we commemorate the World Press Freedom Day and take stock of our struggles in the liberation of our Zimbabwean media space, we should draw inspiration from the Justice. Never should we tire in our pursuit of the full enjoyment of freedoms that our nationalists and freedom fighters delivered for all of us. That will be the greatest honour we all can give to this man, who remained loyal to fair justice delivery for human kind until his last breath.
But we can only do that if we indeed avoid demanding a democratic space for our own personal interests; we stop eliticising or commodifying the struggle for the protection of human rights; we .
frown upon compartmentalising demands for freedom of expression; as well as reject convoluting the need for the promotion of basic liberties with petty political expediency.
Instead, we will sustain the legacy of Justice Manyarara if we indeed humble ourselves and truly speak the language of the common men and women, who are the most vulnerable and hardly have means to seek redress in the assault of their basic freedoms.
For it is for all Zimbabweans and regional citizens that Justice Manyarara fought and protected during his illustrious defence of dignified and just societies.
Regrettably, as we commemorate a life well lived and a character so principled, we have seen threats to corrode the very pillars of freedom that Justice Manyarara embraced. Not only have we
witnessed the plantation of legislative landmines that impede on the full exercise of citizens’ freedoms in this country, but we have also been alarmed by levels of regression in countries that we viewed as our legislative role models.
While we are slowly and reluctantly, if not deceitfully, fulfilling Justice Manyarara’s dream of a free media space, we sadly read that our very own neighbour, South Africa, which we hold in high regard as a model in the promotion of freedom of expression and the media, is now mooting instruments to control the free flow of information.
Indeed, we should be concerned about the ripple effects of such developments on our struggle for media freedom as well as those by our regional brothers and sisters.
As we take stock of Justice Manyarara’s contribution to the delivery of justice for regional citizens, let’s not be intimidated by the miles he ran, the heavy punches he landed and all the stumbles he
overwhelmed in pursuit of a just society. Rather, let’s draw inspiration, vigour and courage from all that. And I am sure we will build on the solid foundation he laid in the struggle for media freedom, freedom of expression and a just region.
Manyarara family, MISA, and all delegates here present I wish all the best in clutching that baton stick that Justice Manyarara left in your hands. Please don’t drop it until you hit the finish line.