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It is widely reported that a 1982 Zimbabwean statute prohibited jokes about Canaan Banana’s name. I’m not sure that that’s true. Is it?

The Economist:

As head of state, Mr Banana never really commanded respect. His name did not help, and in 1982 a law was passed banning jokes about it.

The Telegraph:

Banana had some difficulty investing the office of president with the required aura of reverence and in 1982 a law was passed in Zimbabwe forbidding jokes about the president's name, though it continued to invite cheap jibes, illustrated later in such headlines as "Man raped by Banana" and "Mugabe Slips on Banana".

Certainly, that sounds plausible enough. But I have had great difficulty in locating any legislation to that effect.

On ZimLII, not a single bill or act mentioned in a 1982 number of the Government Gazette seems to relate to this question. And no legislation mentioning the President seems to date from 1982; the closest is 1984, and that is about the Geneva Conventions. Unsurprisingly, no legislation seems to refer to Banana himself directly either.

It is true that section 33 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act [cap 9:23] (ZimLII) could be read to prohibit jokes about the name of the President.

  1. Undermining authority of or insulting President

(1) In this section—

“publicly”, in relation to making a statement, means—

(a) making the statement in a public place or any place to which the public or any section of the public have access;

(b) publishing it in any printed or electronic medium for reception by the public;

“statement” includes any act or gesture.

(2) Any person who publicly, unlawfully and intentionally—

(a) makes any statement about or concerning the President or an acting President with the knowledge or realising that there is a real risk or possibility that the statement is false and that it may—

(i) engender feelings of hostility towards; or

(ii) cause hatred, contempt or ridicule of;

the President or an acting President, whether in person or in respect of the President’s office; or

(b) makes any abusive, indecent or obscene statement about or concerning the President or an acting President, whether in respect of the President personally or the President’s office;

shall be guilty of undermining the authority of or insulting the President and liable to a fine not exceeding level six or imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year or both.

But this is a much later enactment, and the long title reads

An Act to consolidate and amend the criminal law of Zimbabwe; to amend the Interpretation Act [Chapter 1:01], the Burial and Cremation Act [Chapter 5:03], the Customary Marriages Act [Chapter 5:07], the Marriage Act [Chapter 5:11], the Magistrates Court Act [Chapter 7:10], and the Prisons Act [Chapter 7:11]; to repeal the Aircraft (Offences) Act [Chapter 9:01] and the Concealment of Birth Act [Chapter 9:04]; to amend the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act [Chapter 9:07]; to repeal Infanticide Act [[Chapter 9:12] and the Miscellaneous Offences Act [Chapter 9:15]; to amend the Prevention of Corruption Act [Chapter 9:16], and the Stock Theft Act [Chapter 9:18]; to repeal the Witchcraft Suppression Act [Chapter 9:19] and the Sexual Offences Act [Chapter 9:21]; to amend the Anti-Corruption Commission Act [Chapter 9:22], the Public Order and Security Act [Chapter 11:17], the Police Act [Chapter 11:10], the Inland Waters Shipping Act [Chapter 13:06], the Tourism Act [Chapter 14:20], the Dangerous Drugs Act [Chapter 15:02], to amend the Medicines and Allied Substances Control Act [Chapter 15:03]; the Public Health Act [Chapter 15:09], the Termination of Pregnancy Act [Chapter 15:10], the Housing and Building Act [Chapter 22:07] and the Mental Health Act, 1996; and to provide for matters connected with or incidental to the foregoing.

If we look at these acts, not many of these seem plausible candidates as 1982 enactments prohibiting these insults.

  1. The Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act was amended in 1982, but only section 3, which reads

    This Act shall apply to all criminal proceedings in the High Court and the Supreme Court and in magistrates courts in respect of any offence.

  2. I can’t find a copy of the Miscellaneous Offences Act.

  3. The Public Order and Security Act thoroughly postdates the 1980s.

Everything else seems unlikely to mention the President.

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1 Answer 1

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According to the February 1984 Student Lawyer, a publication of the American Bar Association:

What's So Bad about the Name 'Canaan'?

Poor Canaan Banana. As president of Zimbabwe he's been the object of many derogatory remarks about his name.

But not any more. President Banana has made it a crime punishable by up to five years in jail and a $1,000 fine for anyone to undermine the authority of the head of state , engender "feelings of hostility" toward him , or "cause hatred, contempt, or ridicule" of him.

Americans may respond with a peal of laughter, but Zimbabwens had better not slip up. or they'll be in a bunch of trouble.

The full article is also reprinted in 21 March 1984 Res Gestae on the last page.

So even though the OP law has been updated since, the language "engender feelings of hostility towards; or (ii) cause hatred, contempt or ridicule of" was present in the original early 1980s law.

Also, the 19 November 1983 Los Angles Times says:

They're Serious—No Banana jokes HARARE Zimbabwe GB—Making fun of President Canaan Banana whose name has inspired many jokes is a crime punishable by up to five years in jail and a $1000 fine under a new law published Friday in Zimbabwe The Law and Order Maintenance Amendment Act of 1983 makes it an offense to undermine the authority of the head of state engender "feelings of hostility" toward him or "cause hatred contempt or ridicule" of him

So 1983 is the correct year of the legislation, not 1982.

See also The Statute Law of Rhodesia and Zimbabwe (1983 ) which says:

45A (1) Subject to the provisions of subsection (2), any person who, without lawful excuse , the proof whereof lies on him, utters any word, or does any act or thing whatsoever which

(a) is likely-

(i) to undermine the authority of; or

(ii) to engender feelings of hostility towards

or

(iii) to cause, hatred, contempt or ridicule of; the President, whether in person on in respect of his office

or

(b) is likely to expose the President, whether in person or in respect of his office, to hatred , contempt or ridicule;

shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years or to both such fine and such imprisonment.

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  • I have accepted, but I’m not entirely happy. If the first article is right, some statute prohibited the ‘caus[ing of]…ridicule’ of the President. With the second article, we may surmise that that was the Law and Order Maintenance (Amendment) Act 1983. It was repealed by the Public Order and Security Act 2002. The text of the act in 2019 (before repeal of the whole act, and I think the prohibition) doesn’t mention the prohibition. But the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act 2004 does contain it, and did repeal some of the 2002 act, which we must guess is the missing link.
    – wolvercote
    Commented Dec 19, 2022 at 19:21
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    @wolvercote I added a 1983 source with the full text of the 1983 law
    – DavePhD
    Commented Dec 19, 2022 at 20:31

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