Friday, 6 February 2015

Let’s be clear

We’ve heard some very strange uses of words among all the shouting in Zanu (PF) over the past couple of months. Words have been used inaccurately, which leads to confused thinking. Maybe someone is really trying to confuse us.

For example, “an enquiry” is being made into somebody. This usually means only that someone is asking a few questions. There’s no threat in that. If I greet you with “Mamuka sei?” that’s a question. That information is neutral; it might prompt an expression of sympathy or congratulation; then it is friendly. When someone applies for a job, the employer makes enquiries about whether this person is suitable for the job; calling them for an interview, asking previous employers for references, etc. This is neutral – he wants to know what sort of person he’s dealing with. It may tell him positive things about their special abilities, or it may tell him things that persuade him the person is not suitable. Nobody is being blamed just because an enquiry is made.
Let’s be clear
Of course, some enquiries arise because of suggestions that the person may have done something wrong. If the enquiry produces evidence that suggests something blameworthy, the issue becomes more serious. The person may be accused of some specific wrongdoing or failure to do a duty. This does not mean s/he is guilty. It does mean they might be guilty, and it will help everyone if the case is examined further and everyone concerned can bring whatever evidence they have, for or against, to be tested.

At this stage or earlier, another misused word, “suspension” may be used. In recent Zanu-speak that seems to mean punishment for serious crimes, deserving suspension by the neck from a lamp-post. That is hasty and misleading. For example, if a company finds their accounts do not add up, everybody responsible for handling money might be suspended while someone independent investigates. Those suspended are temporarily laid off their work and may still be paid while suspended, or not if there is serious suspicion. If they are found innocent, they go back to work. They have not been wronged; in fact, they have had an opportunity to prove their innocence.

Of course, if investigations, whether in a law court, a disciplinary committee or a labour tribunal prove someone guilty, the situation is different. They have been investigated, suspended while evidence was collected, tried, which includes giving them an opportunity to prove they are innocent, and at the end of the process they were found guilty. But it must be made clear what exactly they were guilty of.

There are many shades of guilt; if somebody is killed in a road accident, a driver might be found not guilty, eg if somebody stepped out into the road from behind a parked lorry without looking to see if the road was clear the driver could not avoid hitting him. Or the driver might be judged guilty of anything from minor carelessness to culpable homicide.

Even culpable homicide is not the same as murder; a different court deals with criminal cases like that. Still, anyone sentenced for culpable homicide should at least be banned (suspended) from driving for a number of years and have his licence cancelled. That shows he is a threat to other people when he sits behind the steering-wheel of a car. Similarly, if two men fight, one is hit, falls and dies, that doesn’t always make the other a murderer. He might be, but a proper trial might conclude that he was defending himself against attack, or that the death was an accident; for example, the victim had some hidden defect so that a blow that would only make you or me dizzy killed him.

If the Herald had paid attention to these points it would have been several pages thinner every day since November.
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