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Monday, 6 February 2012

12 years on...the road to a new constitution

On the 13th of February, Zimbabwe will be marking the 12th anniversary since the country rejected a draft constitution produced by the Constitutional Commission. The commission appointed by Mugabe and composed of  people like Jonathan Moyo, Godfrey Chidyausiku to mention but a few were left with  eggs on their faces after their efforts  were blocked by the people of Zimbabwe. About  578,000 Zimbabweans voted in favour of the draft and 697,754 against it.  With just 20 percent of the registered voters participating in that historic referendum. The rejection of the draft to many was seen as a rejection of Mugabe. Yes, the then ruling party  sponsored and campaigned for that draft whilst  civic society groups mainly the NCA opposed  it. One might argue that most Zimbabweans who rejected the draft were not aware of its contents, but that their vote might have been influenced by the socio-economic decay that the country was facing. Though such a notion cannot be dismissed we should also note that most Zimbabweans were and  are still  aware of what a constitution is and what they want to see in the charter.

President Mugabe casting his ballot
The vote was mainly influenced by powers of the president, and his term of office.  A closer glance at the draft, one would realise that the main provision of the draft constitution was to strengthen Mugabe's grip on the presidency. The draft constitution would also have made his government and military officials immune from prosecution for any illegal acts committed while in office.  More so, we should not underestimate the work done by organisations like the NCA, who travelled massively in almost every corner of the republic enlightening the citizens on constitutionalism.  In fact the NCA was the first organisation to demand and pressure the Mugabe government to have a constitutional reform process. Largely, it was because Zimbabwe was still using a cease fire document crafted in Lancaster by the warring parties during the war. And the reason why groups like the NCA advocated for a new charter was because of a bad system of governance adopted by ZANU PF using a flawed constitution. Thus, ZANU PF was never interested in Zimbabwe adopting a new constitution because it enjoyed abusing power using a flawed constitution with an unlimited presidential term.
COPAC Co-Chair Doglous Mwonzora
NCA Chairperson Lovemore Madhuku

As I have said above that Zimbabweans are fully aware of the issue of the constitution and therefore they will not accept a charter that they did not put their input. Obviously with a history of suppression and abuse of power by ZANU PF every sane Zimbabwean will be very much concerned about such provisions in the constitution. The Commission in 2000, mostly contained
individuals chosen by Mugabe himself and that already compromised the work of the commission. The commission deliberately excluded the inputs of Zimbabweans and decided to present their own version of the draft that included unpopular provisions such as the ‘executive powers.’ To those who still recall that there was a case of two Commissioners who appealed to the High Court, in an attempt to get the referendum delayed because of the alleged illegality of the alterations to the draft. The presiding judge declared that Mugabe had powers under the Referendums Act to make "any corrections, clarifications, alterations or amendments to the draft constitution he so wishes.... he could even have discarded it completely and put his own draft before the electorate." So it was because of such flaws that resulted in the rejection of the draft. AND again Zimbabwe was presented with another opportunity to write a new constitution after the 2008 election, but again the politicians committed another suicide and decided to go it alone excluding the people of Zimbabwe. The framework as articulated by Article 6 of the GPA, falls short of the ingredients of a democratic people driven constitution making exercise. Article 6,  provides for  total control of the process by politicians who all were fighting to protect their selfish interests ahead of the people. Surely COPAC wasted our precious time and resources pretending that they were writing a constitution whilst enjoying donor funds in hotels. COPAC is just but a replica of the 2000 commission, its appointed by principals of political parties and also dominated by politicians.

Surprisingly, the other partner in COPAC, ZANU PF are even pushing for an election without the new constitution, a clear indication that they were in this process only to enjoy western funds directly. It is also likely that we might go for polls without a new constitution, and that will be suicidal.

 Finally, as we reflect on the 12 years since attempts to impose a constitution were blocked, we should be fully mindful that politicians should never be entrusted with the making of a constitution for the nation. It is not their prerogative alone but  all the citizens. Therefore it is time that the parties in government swallow their pride and admit that they have failed the nation and immediately disband COPAC to pave way for an impartial body to lead a fresh process. The composition of that body, should  include all sectors of our society, namely political parties,
workers, the youth, churches and others.  Only through an independent commission without direct control from politicians will be able to write a proper charter for Zimbabwe.

Blessing Vava is a political commentator based in Chipinge. He can be contacted on blessingvava@gmail.com,  the article first appeared on www.blevava.blogspot.com/