THE protracted death throes of democracy in Zimbabwe continue. The recent visit to Harare of South African President Mbeki, following President Mugabe's decision to quit the Commonwealth, seems to have made no difference to the general atmposphere of lawlessness and oppression. The remarkable thing, however, is how bravely and stubbornly those who still try to uphold the rule of law fight on. The principal opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, continues to hold meetings and express its views despite all the efforts of Mugabe's thugs to subjugate it and even in Zimbabwe's abused law courts there are still judges who are prepared to rule on the issues of the case in front of them rather than on what the regime wants done.

Last week, Judge Selo Nare handed down his decision that Zimbabwe's largest independent daily newspaper, the Daily News, should be allowed to resume publishing immediately despite a Government order closing it down. Before the judge gave his decision he had told the court that he had received a letter from militants of President Mugabe's ruling ZANU Party threatening harm to him and his family if he “collaborated with sell-outs like the Daily News.” ACTING on the court's ruling, the staff of the newspaper went to work but found that the police had sealed off their printing plant; they were ordered to return home. But the most revelatory incident came when the Government's Information Minister, Jonathan Moyo, issued a statement describing the judge's ruling as “political” and insisting that “the rule of law must be upheld”. George Orwell could not have imagined a more perfect example of what happens when power goes to people's heads. The judge's decision becomes political and the politician claims to be the defender of the law.