by Nkosana Dlamini
Authorities in the Ministry of Justice have fenced off the area outside the Harare Magistrates’ court building ostensibly to prepare the area for planned construction of another adjacent court premises.
The palisade perimeter fencing was installed last month and covers the expanse between the following roads: Robert Mugabe, Rotten Row, Belvedere and M. Patrick which separates the court and the Interpol building.
Harare’s main court lies on a 4.3 hectare piece of land to the west of the CBD. While security fencing might be viewed as a welcome move by judicial authorities keen to protect the giant structure and its movable property, the move has not been good news for everybody.
Harare motorists who work in downtown Kopje area had in the past been able to take advantage of the free, shaded parking space outside the court building. By fencing off the area, these motorists feel robbed by the development, and without receiving any information as to why the fence was necessary, they have been quick to blame Harare city authorities for what they think is an attempt to punish those trying to evade the city’s high parking fees.
“It is cruel for council to follow us to every little corner that we try to park our cars. This ordinarily should be free space for everyone as it is not situated inside the CBD. I don’t see how they would be losing much parking revenue by allowing us to park here,” said motorist Energy Makusha.
It is not just the motorists who feel hard done by, but also court workers and court visitors who now have a longer walk from the CBD as the gate is located at the front of the court building. Harare City Council spokesperson Michael Chideme was quick to distance the city from the new development and directed Harare News to speak to the judicial authorities.
Pro-democracy activists who have in recent months picketed the court grounds in solidarity with social media activist Pastor Evan Mawarire in July as well as for the explosive NERA demonstration that took place at the end of August, will now find that the court premises are no longer easy to access. In fact, the new fence now prevents large crowds from gathering outside its immediate vicinity.
During the skirmishes between protestors and riot police last August, activists sought refuge inside the court building amidst running battles between opposition political party activists and police who were trying to disperse activists from what has become a meeting place for opposition demonstrations.
Similarly, followers of popular prophet Walter Magaya congregated outside the previously freely accessible court grounds when he was arraigned recently for allegations of rape. Court proceedings were frequently disturbed as followers outside the court sang in solidarity and support for the cleric.
When contacted for comment, Judicial Services Commission secretary Justice Rita Makarau laughed off conspiracy claims and said the new court fencing was intended to secure the court grounds in preparation for the construction of a new adjacent court structure that will cater for civil matters.
“It’s simply to protect our property – as you know we are renovating. Not only are we renovating the place but we also intend to develop a civil magistrate’s court there. So, once we start developing, there we building material outside and we want to be able to account for that material,” she said. Makarau added that the construction will be handled by the Ministry of Local Government.
Image: New fence erected outside the Magistrate’s Court on Rotten Row.