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Some Reflections on Student activism and the Pitfalls of Celebrity politics in Zimbabwe

By Blessing Vava ''Student activism is a highly conflict-filled terrain with very passionate individuals and groups involved&...

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The new constitution is not about removing Mugabe


By Blessing Vava

(This article was first published on the 25th of May 2011)
Zimbabwe’s crisis of governance has basically been believed to emanate from a constitutional crisis that has plunged the country into a serious socio, economic, political quagmire. This was exacerbated by the partisan inspired amendments to the "cease-fire" Lancaster House constitution by the then ruling ZANUPF making the document itself an insult to the democratic values  shared and aspired  for by many Zimbabweans. The fundamental basis of the Lancaster House document has been destroyed by the claw –back clauses which characterises the bill of rights and the whole fabric for the safeguard of fundamental human rights and their sanctity. This created a scenario under which the constitution became an instrument of oppression  gradually to outright dictatorship and authoritarianism. ZANUPF is continuously turning a deaf ear to this 21st century reality (by driving the political environment into a vampire, chaotic lot) a wind of change blew in the land between the Zambezi and Limpopo.
The zeal for a democratic home grown people driven constitution that would ensure a peaceful and prosperous democratic Zimbabwe, saw the progressive civil forces conglomerated into a powerful political alliance that would wrestle power from ZANUPF with the hope that it will seek among other things, to transform these aspirations into practical realities. It is therefore the purpose of this article to attempt to unravel the relationship between constitution making and democracy highlighting  challenges facing the current generation of democracy activists in Zimbabwe as the flout parliamentary inter party constitution making process unfolds under article 6 of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) with particular reference to the youth in Zimbabwe .
 When the government of Zimbabwe is criticised as undemocratic and dictatorial, its quick response is that it is a constitutional regime that respects the constitution of Zimbabwe.  However the question that has been asked by many is that does the current constitution of Zimbabwe guarantees the respect of the rule of law and fundamental human rights to the Zimbabweans and the youth of this nation in particular so that it deserves any respect? For the majority of the young people, the answer is totally NO! As if to give a brief historical analogue, the seeds for democracy were sown in 1980 when the country realised its independence which was not in itself, the advent of democracy and the respect of the rule of law. However the regime of President Mugabe did not water the seed so that it germinates and grow into a mature democracy from which all generations across the political, ethnical and racial divide would enjoy. Rather, the country degenerated into unprecedented levels of pandemonium in early 1980s as ZANUPF embarked on an on slaughter of the rule of law in the Midlands and  Matabeleland regions  under an operation code named ‘Gukurahundi’ (clearing the chuff) resulting in a genocide against the Ndebele tribe. This was meant to crack down the Zimbabwe African People Union (ZAPU) which had its roots in the province. This was the earliest indicator on what will become the order of the day, as ZANUPF intensified its campaign for a one party state a few years later.
There is little doubt the people of Zimbabwe now understand democracy to the deepest of its meaning to the extent that to leave them from effective and meaningfully participating in the constitutional reform process is tantamount to making a grievous mistake. Having endured the perilous struggle for the past decade, these masses understand what they have been engaged for and where they want to go. In this light the inclusive government’s exclusive constitutional making process falls far short from meeting the minimum standards that are relatively common in most constitutional reform initiatives. This has almost shattered the whole fabric of what seemed a vibrant and promising civil society, with most of the vibrant youthful movements like the students movement and workers unions joining hands with the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) to try to push the parties to meaningfully involve the people. Others have, for reasons unknown, decided to ally themselves to the process probably for their political expedience. Evidently what has happened so far shows that the COPAC process will not yield the desired results.
The position taken by the broader alliance that is the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), ZINASU and the NCA, therefore is commendable and progressive as they seek to fight for their space in the process of democratic nation building. There is overwhelming consensus amongst these organisations that despite the fact that the MDC played a critical role in efforts to build a strong democracy in Zimbabwe, it has no mandate to exercise it on behalf of the thirteen million Zimbabweans. Clearly this shows the direct correlation between constitutional reform and people participation in building a sustainable democracy. The behaviour of the MDC in the debate and process unfolding in Zimbabwe depicts the culture of African opposition politics, that they are not necessarily and fundamentally a democratic alternative to the incumbent. Rather they may be worst abusers of power who only lacks it.
The essence of popular participation in constitution making is critical on four main matrixes which are;
a)     It allows people to enjoy democracy while building it.
b)    It makes people feel proud of themselves and that they own their constitution hence respect it.
c)     There is respect of diversity of culture, ideas, race, religion, sex, political affiliations
d)    Builds a sustainable democracy
In Zimbabwe the concept of people participation has been taken to be more of an academic opinion and dismissed by the three political parties who are custodians to the 15 September 2008 agreement, who have instead resorted to the infamous Article 6 of the GPA which enshrines an exclusive process under the so called Kariba draft document. Realistically, it may be difficult to achieve especially with regard to most developing worlds like Zimbabwe who may not have enough resources to fund a grassroots based process. However this is not to justify hijacking of the process by politicians who have compromised the importance of people participation in constitution making.

The current process is a fast track process that does not even reflect the effort to get the views of the ordinary man and woman, youth and the elderly who the constitution, if achieved, is meant to protect. Principally it is grossly erroneous for Zanu (PF) to use the constitution reform agenda as a yardstick to destroy the opposition MDC and buttress its hold on power. It is equally erroneous and wrong for the MDC to attempt to manipulate the new constitution making agenda as a shortcut to removing Mugabe. It should be taken into cognizant that writing a new constitution is one thing and political endeavours are other things. The argument by the MDC that after the constitution making process the nation will go to polls which will remove Mugabe and herald the advent of democracy should be dismissed as nonsensical and unrealistic. This is because the writing of a constitution is one process and getting rid of Mugabe is another separate process to the extent that a fusion of these two unrelated endeavours should be rejected with the contempt they deserve.  Therefore there is a need to contrast what the people of Zimbabwe want to achieve and what the political parties want to achieve. The point here is that a constitution should be written procedurally and duly, with no political attachments to it, otherwise a constitution has more to offer beyond political aspirations. It is therefore wrong for the MDC to attempt to use the constitution reform as a yardstick of removing Mugabe and therefore put 90% of its energies to addressing the technical issues of getting rid of Mugabe in which case his departure should not be confused as the beginning of democracy in Zimbabwe.

By participating in a proper people driven constitution making process, Zimbabweans will have a lifetime opportunity to nurture their own democracy and contribute meaningfully in the democratisation process that’s needed in the country. The conviction in the majority of youth from the progressive pro-democracy organisations that have been and are still engaged in the struggle for democracy is that the first fruits of victory in our struggle for democratic transformation is  our uninterrupted participation in a process where the youth have faith that their views will be considered. In this way the youth will therefore enjoy among other citizens, democracy at its infancy. There are certain benchmarks which the youth in their various groupings have set and those should be given utmost consideration in the constitution making process. For those in school and universities  who continue to play a critical role in the struggle as the umbilical cord between and among communities, a democratic constitution should enshrines the right to education at all levels as a fundamental human right and ensure an enabling environment that ensures the respect of academic rights with outlined remedies in case of breach of these rights. Other youth from the non academic world demand the reform of the Ministry of Youth development and economic empowerment so that it can be demilitarised and de-patronised putting an end in the training of youth militias and hit squads in the name of the national youth service. With the levels of awareness in the youth thanks to the efforts of the civil society, a process that seeks to exclude the youth shall be an exercise in futility.

‘The process of making a constitution is as important as the content of the constitution itself to the extent that a defective constitution making process leads to a defective outcome. If people participate fully and effectively in a proper people driven constitution reform process there is assurance that the outcome will be a document that enshrines fundamental liberties and lays the foundation of a free and democratic nation. It should be pointed out that the constitutional debate in Zimbabwe is happening in a nation which does not have a constitutional vacuum but one which has a constitution that lacks both the philosophy of constitutionalism and legitimacy. In this regard the legitimacy of a constitution is in the people in their diverse existence, who are the authors of their own constitution in which case this fundamental reality defeated a flout and stage managed undemocratic constitutional reform attempted by the ZANUPF government in 2000 drawn by politicians exclusively. If politicians were up to something good for the nation as a whole, they should have learnt a lesson from that experience that the road towards constitutional democracy should be democratic itself, and not a ‘burden’ of Global Political Agreement (GPA) principals.
A genuine people driven process must synergise diverse views from the diverse society so that a new constitution will reflect different aspirations as clearly explained in the Zimbabwe People’s Charter adopted at the People’s Convention, Harare on the 9th February 2008. It clearly states that the people shall have a constitutional reform process whose outcome will ensure a society characterised by tolerance of plurality on divergent views, cultures, religion inter-alia other aspects of plural society. This will give result to a constitution that is free from any manipulation by the political party that has majority number of representatives in the August house. What is needed is an independent commission to lead the process and with no attachments to political parties.
As such the constitution making process should be viewed with the future generation in mind, not to seek to sacrifice the basic needs of the future Zimbabweans for unsustainable expediencies of a rapacious clique of power hungry politicians. The youth believes that a constitution which they actively input will safeguard fundamental liberties and freedoms that every citizen will be proud of, just as the youth in the USA feel indebted to their constitution. There is little doubt that this will inaugurate a lasting democracy that ensures a bright future and bring an end to polarisation and marginalisation among the youth. Hence the only thing left is to reject the COPAC constitution come referendum because it was not written by the people.
Blessing ‘Vuvuzela’ Vava is a blogger from Chipinge, He Can be contacted on blessingvava@gmail.com