1 August 2012

Zimbabwe: Drama Follows Constitution to the End

Photo: allafrica.com
Zimbabwe statehouse: The final draft of the constitution - with the most significant reforms aimed at political and legal systems - needs to be finalised in preparation for a referendum.

IT all started in a dramatic fashion and it looks set to end with drama.

Zimbabwe's constitution-making process has for the past three-and-half years been characterised by a lot of political theatrics, including violence, and a string of circuses as ZANU-PF and the two formations of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) literally traded blows in attempts to assert their respective views in the proposed new constitution.

Chaos reigned supreme at the first all-stakeholders conference held at a local hotel in Harare as ZANU-PF and MDC faithful fought running battles in front of cameras.

As if that was not enough, there was blood-letting in August 2011 when the Constitutional Parliamentary Select Committee (CO-PAC), the body charged with drafting the constitution, brought the outreach programme to Parliament. Regardless of the fact that Parliament is a sacred house and heavily guarded, supporters of the rival political parties engaged in running battles.

Legislators from the two MDC formations and journalists were pummelled in full view of the cameras by marauding members of a terror group popularly known as Chipangano. Not a single culprit has been arrested to date despite the pictures of the political thugs published in national newspapers.

Other outreach programmes were abandoned in Mbare and other volatile high density suburbs as violence broke out, forcing COPAC to suspend the meetings. This contributed to the delays in concluding the on-and-off constitution-making process.

Not to be outdone by their supporters, ZANU-PF and MDC officials in COPAC and outside COPAC repeatedly engaged in verbal diarrhoea as the constitution-making process trudged along, much to the delight of opponents of the political parties driven process.

With political rivals publicly ridiculing each other, and at times insulting each other in the media, critics doubted whether the country would eventually have a constitution it deserves.

The process has so far chewed more than US$40 million of donor funds. But it looks like the drama characterising the process is still far from over as it emerged that ZANU-PF militaristic hardliners want to torpedo the process.

ZANU-PF hardliners have come up with a string of amendments, some of them mundane, which they want incorporated in the new supreme law.

For instance, one politburo member has suggested that in reference to several freedoms referred to in the draft, for instance the freedom to demonstrate, he wants amendments to the effect that those freedoms must be "enjoyed responsibly."

While ZANU-PF is dilly-dallying in fully endorsing the document, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's formation is in support of the draft, warts and all, much to the chagrin of some of his allies, setting another stage for drama.

Critics say it is strange that the MDC-T, which is seen giving in to most of ZANU-PF's demands in the draft, is campaigning for a yes vote and yet the document perpetuates President Robert Mugabe's rule.

The MDC-T's national executive which met last week to receive a report and consider the draft constitution resolved to appeal to the generality of the population to endorse the document when it is brought to a referendum.

In a communiqué after the meeting, the MDC-T said after extensive deliberations, the executive committee was satisfied that the draft constitution essentially captured the views of the people of Zimbabwe and represents "an incremental gain in the democratisation process."

The party added that although there were some things that it may have wanted included in the constitution, it respected the will of the people of Zimbabwe and the fact that some aspects of this constitution had to be negotiated.

"The party resolved that the people of Zimbabwe must be given an opportunity to decide on the draft through a referendum," said Douglas Mwonzora, the MDC-T national spokesperson and COPAC co-chairperson.

According to Jessie Majome, Harare West Member of the House of Assembly and COPAC spokesperson, Zimbabwe will make history if people adopt the new constitution because of the fundamental children's rights enshrined there-in.

Majome, who is also the Deputy Minister of Women's Affairs, Gender and Community Development, said for the first time, if it is adopted, Zimbabwe would have a constitution recognising the rights of children in the founding principles.

"In the Bill of Rights, for the first time in the history of the country, there is a clause dealing with the rights of children. Further on, for the first time the constitution recognises the right to education which is so important," she said.

But Maddock Chivasa, the spokesperson for the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), maintains that the process was not people-driven but political parties driven.

Chivasa said the political parties should expect a huge surprise at the national referendum, predicting a dramatic end to the constitution-making process with the generality of the population flatly rejecting the draft.

"The COPAC draft is worse than the previous rejected Chidyausiku constitution. The draft is retaining an executive president not wanted by Zimbabwean citizens. There is no devolution in the draft although the majority of Zimbabweans prefer a decentralised governance system," he said.

Chivasa further noted that the COPAC draft still retained two vice presidents, used by President Mugabe to maintain tribal balance.

Chivasa added: "The Diaspora vote is not allowed in the COPAC draft despite that Zimbabweans want those in Diaspora to exercise their right to vote. Besides these flaws of the constitution there are several issues undermined in the COPAC draft."

The NCA spokesperson charged that by mobilising for a yes vote the MDC was digging its own grave.

"Let them not blame anyone when they eventually collapse. The NCA will mobilise for a no vote in rejection to both the content of the constitution and the bogus process that nurtured it," he said.

Blessing Vava, a political analyst, said the COPAC draft was just an edited version of the Kariba draft constitution by the parties in the inclusive government.

"It is not a product of the people of Zimbabwe because their views are not captured in that draft, and the people must reject such a constitution. The powers of the President have been expanded, he still has the power to make critical appointments, and he still remains the head of state and government and commander-in-chief of the defence forces. If you look closely at section 5.14 you can notice that it was made specifically to deal with ZANU-PF's succession, because in the event that the President dies, the deputy takes over and completes that term of office," said Vava.

There are also concerns that the draft fails to capture and clearly articulate the issue of devolution, a topical issue during the outreach.

The executive still appoints governors and the planned introduction of a provincial assembly is seen as a mere smokescreen because the roles and responsibilities of such an organ are not clearly spelt out.

With ZANU-PF this week convening another politburo meeting specifically to look at the draft constitution, further intrigues in the delayed writing of the new constitution might emerge, critics' caution.

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