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Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The complexities of Zimbabwe’s constitution referendum





By Blessing Vava
SADC Executive Secretary Thomas Salamao-His team is here
for nothing other than a 'YES'
As the curtain comes down on the COPAC’s constitution making process it is necessary to make a reflection on the process, context and outcome of the document notwithstanding how my beloved Zimbabweans have been deceived and seduced by COPAC’s propaganda onslaught glorifying its ill-fated attempt at constitution making as a people driven, inclusive and democratic. The propaganda has gone to the extent of reporting falsehoods of overwhelming success of COPAC’s outreach programme claiming that the attendance in their meetings is a reflection of overwhelming public support to the draft which has been tabled for a referendum on the 16th of March 2013.
Judging by the low attendance in their awareness/campaign meetings with attendance ranging from 1-60 persons it is absurd that Douglas Mwonzora can suggest that the people of Zimbabwe have overwhelmingly supported COPAC’s draft lying thus: “we are happy with the responses we got; most of the meetings were well attended.” Twenty people and a few hundreds cannot be equated as anything near overwhelming support in a population of 12 573 000 citizens. Such void claims are being made to legitimise this fraudulent process. The truth of the matter is that ZANU PF and its allies in government, the two MDCs under the banner of COPAC are hoodwinking Zimbabweans to vote for their draft.

Joyce Kazembe-Conducting the referendum illegally
Of interest, however is the arrival of the SADC Observer mission Hon Bernard Kamillius Membe, representative of the Chairperson of SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation who jetted in the country, yesterday, exactly  5 days before the holding of the referendum. Rather disturbing are the observer mission’s ill-informed statements which the people of Zimbabwe should dismiss. In a statement, head of the of team Hon Membe said: ‘’ This Constitutional referendum scheduled for the 16 March 2013 clearly demonstrates movement from signed declarations into tangible results to the benefit of the Zimbabwean citizens. Furthermore, the referendum will ensure the inclusion of the political stakeholders indicating a major milestone towards the realisation of a stable political environment,’’ says the Hon Minister. From his remarks, the Hon Minister already is suggesting to the people of Zimbabwe, that, the ‘draft’ signals democratic progression with results that will benefit Zimbabweans and that it will ensure good governance through the inclusion of political players.

This he says, ignorant to the fact that it is the same SADC that facilitated a bogus power sharing deal that accommodated election losers who had been retired by the people of Zimbabwe on 29 March 2008. The shortfalls of the GPA created this constitution reform framework, a framework which relegated the people of Zimbabwe to spectators, whilst politicians drive the process.   Needless to say, national progress is stalled at 2009, the basic livelihoods of Zimbabweans have not improved.

All the reforms which we clamoured for were inadequate; in short it was just lipstick being applied to a frog and packaging old wine in new bottles. The legacy of the inclusive government was about unprincipled compromises and the bellies of the politicians while entrenching poverty among the population. The GPA failed to deal with the socio-economic issues affecting the people of Zimbabwe.
SADC told us, that it was a transitional framework directed at leading the nation towards sustainable democracy manifesting in periodic free and fair elections. Questions arise whether SADC is really concerned about the welfare and rights of the people of Zimbabwe or rather they are concerned about being credited for solving Zimbabwe’s political crisis. Needless to say that there is an inherent failure, deliberate or error of omission,  on the part of SADC to understand and stress the importance of economics in power brokering which in the first instance was the most significant indicator of a failed state. They gave us the GPA, which proved to be a disaster, with all the parties alluding to the fact that it was an unworkable arrangement and now they are papering their baby by glorifying a sham process. Of course it’s clear that their mission here is to endorse this fraudulent Kariba draft, oh I mean ‘draft.’ It’s no longer a secret that there is a significant percentage of the population that is campaigning for a NO vote. A reality which the observer team conveniently ignores. Their mission here cannot be impossible, it evidently exhibited from their irresponsible statements that to them it will be a mission possible in Zimbabwe, they are confident and are ready for a YES vote.
MDC99 leader-''The observer team did not respond to
 his assertions which were generally viewed
as last-minute attempts to scuttle the process''-Herald

Reading through the statements they released today, suggest the pre-judgement by SADC that the environment under which this referendum is being conducted is free and fair. Even some statements attributed to the observer team quoted on local radio stations urging the people of Zimbabwe to vote for the draft constitution must be condemned with contempt. The purpose of the Observer team is not to campaign for a certain position but the mission’s mandate is to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the electoral process and to observe the extent to which the referendum complies with international standards for elections, as well as domestic law. So their pre-judging upon arrival statements that the conditions existing   favour a credible outcome are immature, biased and regrettable. For God’s sake their first port of call was the Rainbow Hotel whereupon they issue irresponsible statements. The most obvious issues or anomalies in this referendum are that:
  • ·        The COPAC process left out other political parties and civil society formations, making the product wholly ZANU PF/MDCT affair.
  • ·        The state media and some private media houses have ganged up to shut space for the NCA and other organisations and individuals which are opposing the draft. This is despite the clear violation of the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections which state access to equal media access as a key yardstick to free and fair electoral processes.
  • ·        COPAC is playing the referee and player at the same time. After writing the draft, logic was that they should not have participated in the awareness campaigns which, instead of educating people about what is in the draft they ended up picking some supposed-good sections to entice the public to vote for the draft: a clear case of canvassing for votes.
  • ·        With barely 4 days before the conduct of the referendum, three quarters of the voting population have not received the draft, COPAC only availed 90 000 with a paltry 20 000 being in vernacular. The courts reluctantly attend to the NCA urgent application court case seeking an extension of date to allow Zimbabweans to be given enough the copies and enough the time to decide on the draft.
  • ·        there is no justification in printing 12 million ballot papers with a country with a voting population of about 7 million
  • ·        The barring of international observers is an indication that Zimbabwe’s electoral processes are yet to be reformed.
  • ·        The state has unleashed the police to harass and intimidate civil society organisations confiscating radios which they claim are weapons of espionage and a threat to national security.
  • ·        The barring of polling agents of groups campaigning for a no vote, opens the process to rigging and manipulation
  • ·        The person running the referendum (Joyce Kazembe) is not qualified according to the current constitution and the laws governing elections and referendums. It casts doubt over the credibility of the Saturday process.

All these factors cannot be ignored; the same will happen during the election period and the same SADC will come again and endorse an election conducted under these conditions. It is my sincere hope that the SADC observer team will meet all the stakeholders (NCA) and hear their side of the story and stop making biased and ill-informed statements about the situation on the ground.   We know what we want as the people of Zimbabwe, SADC must not determine the course, it role should be to be the guardian.
Blessing Vava is a blogger who writes from Chipinge. He can be contacted on blessingvava@gmail.com