1 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Constitution - We Must Be On Guard

editorial

THERE is a buzz around the country about the draft constitution which principals in the unity government recently endorsed.

Their endorsement of the document paves the way for parliamentary processes that should lead to a referendum in which Zimbabweans will be encouraged by their respective political parties to endorse the draft in a plebiscite.

While constitution-making is seen as an important process critical to citizens' participation in governance and deepening democracy in the country, there is no real guarantee the new supreme law of the land is going to achieve this.

Like many African countries, Zimbabwe has a constitution, but does not practise constitutionalism. The result is that we have progressive-looking constitutions and paradoxically huge democratic deficits in governance.

Recent experiences have revealed the extent to which the Zanu PF ruling establishment is prepared to go towards subverting the constitution. The post-liberation aristocracy in this country has proved to have little respect for the current constitution and there are no guarantees the new one will change that.

In the absence of a deliberate resolve to respect the rule of law and uphold fundamental freedoms, Zimbabwe will continue to be a poor state, governed by political apparatchiks who use elections and the constitution to give themselves a veneer of legitimacy.

It should be noted that the ills which have afflicted this country in recent memory have not been caused by a deficient constitution, but largely by failure to adhere to the letter and spirit of the law.

In March 2008 Zimbabwe held largely peaceful elections under the same constitution that was in force when violence was unleashed.

The problem after the March polls was not necessarily due to flaws in the founding law but individuals and institutions of the state that have little respect for constitutionalism.

The current constitution does not condone torture but our security officers use this as a weapon of choice to extract information and punish political opponents. The constitution is clear on the need for serving security personnel to be apolitical, but police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri and a band of senior army officers have lent themselves to roles as Zanu PF commissars.

Only this week Chihuri was quoted urging wives of police officers to vote for Zanu PF. The new constitution is not likely to deter him from flaunting his political credentials and campaigning openly for the party.

There is a dearth of constitutionalism in this country which remains a clear and present danger to any constitution. Constitutionalism implies governance within the framework of the rule of law, justice and respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms.

It is about constitutions in practice and not only in form or in theory.

Failure to establish constitutionalism has been one of the spectacular downfalls of the unity government.

There is no political will at the moment to disband institutions guilty of subjugating fundamental rights. Also absent is the professionalism fundamental to a successful state. These are still kicking about and ready to strike at the heart of the new constitution's bill of rights. We must be on our guard.

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