By Lenin Tinashe Chisaira
“I’m not going to censor myself to comfort your ignorance”- Jon Stewart
Prophet Walter Magaya of the Prophetic Healing and Deliverance (PHD) Ministries was arrested on Friday 19 August 2016 and charged with rape.
He allegedly lured and raped a female university student-cum-congregant at a Mount Pleasant house in July 2015. What has followed the prophet’s arrest has been speculation from his die-hard fanatics that the arrest was politically motivated and was stage-managed with the complicit of the rape complainant.
The politics was alluded to with the consideration that various religious leaders have been speaking out against the worsening economic injustices and authoritarianism under the current Zimbabwe government.
However, some circles have been pointing that the law must be allowed to take its course. I am in full agreement with the later. In as much as every person has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, the rape complainant likewise has the right to speak out and seek justice without being labelled a “whore” , “prostitute” or “conspirator”.
The problem with the Zimbabwean society is that it remains rooted in some of the worst forms of patriarchy. It is patriarchal practice that promotes the myths that when a woman accepts an invite to a man’s house, she must have herself to blame when she is raped. That mentality is animalistic. In fact, to say so is an insult to the animal kingdom.
A woman has the right to say no, and that is a right that must be defended. Civilised society should never classify certain forms of rape and sexual assault to be permissible or acceptable. In this case, the question of whether the young women having conceded to be alone with the prophet at the house (as is alleged) should have foreseen that she would be sexually assaulted, is not relevant.
Complainants have rights
Rape victims and complainants, in the present incident and anywhere, deserve to be protected by society. This is especially the case when they are standing up to so-called powerful members of the society. People like the lady complainant have the potential to break the silence and build the confidence of other young women and men who occasionally find themselves in similar circumstances.
The young woman is no villain. Even if the accusation is later found to have been politically motivated, that still doesn’t make the rape complainant a villain. That can only strengthen the voice against making young women objects of either settling political scores or sexual pawns at the hands of patriarchal elements or religious rivals.
It is also highly undesirable for religious fanatics to continue exalting an accused person. The Saturday scenes at the Harare Magistrates (Rotten Row) Court with women kneeling and singing gospel songs in support of the accused Prophet Walter Magaya, was really unsettling.
It is acts such as these that continue to fuel patriarchal crimes and to scare other young victims into submission. It doesn’t help that the Minister of Women Affairs herself reportedly gave the prophet a standing ovation in solidarity after the arrest.
On top of that, the prophet has paraded women congregants (including the complainant) to ‘confess’ during a church service that they were paid to nail him. That reminds one of the scene in George Orwell’s Animal Farm where animals ‘voluntarily’ confessed to anti-animalism behaviour. The animals in the story were sadly not saved by the confessions. Rather they were immediately carried to the slaughter by Napoléon’s dogs.
The law must take its course
Society and fellow congregants of both the complainant and the prophet ought to give the courts room to assess and evaluate evidence. Prophet Water Magaya and his followers are entitled to the presumption of innocence under our laws. Every accused person is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty.
Of equal importance is societal and congregants’ duty to respect the right of rape victims to seek justice without being roasted in the fires of the courts of public opinion. Religious fanatics and nightclub lawyers need to act and comment with caution and respect until the matter is resolved.
[Lenin Tinashe Chisaira is an activist and lawyer based in Harare. He writes on issues of economic justice, politics, human rights and the environment atwww.cdetinashe.blogspot.com and tweets at @LeninChisaira]