A test for the supreme principle of morality

What motivated Philip Machemedze – a Zimbabwean former CIO operative – to confess to gory crimes against humanity? Machemedze was heavily involved in the torture and murder of MDC activists on behalf of the Zimbabwean then ruling party. He admitted to smashing an MDC supporter’s jaw with pliers and then pulling out the victim’s teeth with the same. He admitted to abducting dozens of MDC activists and, in his own words, did things to them that: “are too gruesome to recount.” Machemedze also admitted in a UK court to rubbing salt into the flesh of a female MDC member after she had been taken to an underground cell, stripped and whipped. He admitted electrocuting and punching a white farmer who was suspected of sponsoring the MDC. Today, the former spy continues to live in the peace and safety of Wales in the UK.

Ordinarily, Machemedze was not entitled to receive asylum for his role in committing crimes against humanity. But his life was in danger.

If it were up to you, would you grant him asylum for his confession, which was clearly driven by anything other than remorse but by most likely a selfish goal in what Immanuel Kant refers to as the utilitarian motive?


Machemedze must have used the hypothetical imperative that if he wanted permanent residence in the UK, he should make a confession. This would most likely help his case as a means to attaining an asylum status not only through positioning himself as a potential key informant for the ICC and their alleged probe into Mugabe, but by also indicating the danger his life was in should he actually come back to Zimbabwe.

The action of confessing in this case cannot be viewed as a good in itself. It was not concerned with human dignity but rather with a careful calculation of what would produce the greatest happiness for himself.

But why would people care anything about a heartless former assassin’s black hide? What makes us even believe he is a changed man too?

Then again, when you consider the question of necessity vs poverty, being a CIO man is a job, albeit one where there is no forced conscription. Somebody had to do it, if not Machemedze then someone else had to obey the instruction to silence them dissenters. When he pulled out that victim’s teeth with pliers, does whether he wanted to do it or not matter in deciding his asylum status? Would it make a difference if he said he was forced to do it?

Consider this analogy in Michael Sandel’s Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do …which tells the story of a young boy who after passing a spelling test, moves on to a higher level but later realizes that he had after all, gotten one spelling wrong and none of the judges had noticed it. Not wanting to “feel like slime”, he went and told the judges and immediately got disqualified. Although he was applauded for his integrity, his confession did not stem from being honest because it was the right thing to do. He simply wanted to make himself feel better and hence in Kant’s view, his confession lacked moral worth.

Can the same be said about Machemedze? What then becomes the moral worth of Machemedze’s confession? Did he confess simply because it was the right thing to do or because he could no longer stand the weight on his conscience or because of the perceived benefits of going that route (both of which in each latter case in Kant’s view becomes an inclination)? In any event, if we spare a thought for the fact that he is going to live the rest of his life with people around him knowing this gory side of him, is that grounds enough to feel pity for him?

Perhaps we can conclude that all people are selfish, and The UK rulings protecting the ex-CIO operative are apparently because he supplied information about his colleagues and not because of a genuine concern for the fact that if he returned to Zimbabwe, he would face – as said by the judge in Newport – “death or inhuman or degrading treatment.”

No thanks to the Human Rights Act, Machemedze will continue to live and be treated for HIV in Britain at the expense of the British taxpayer, and by some macabre turn of events, a man who caused the death and inhuman treatment of many is himself being harbored by law from deservedly such.


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