Zimbabwe: Update on Zimbabwe's New Draft Constitution

Zimbabweans are discussing the proposed draft of a new constitution. This will be Zimbabwe's second constitution. A proposed new constitution to replace the Lancaster House Agreement of 1979 was approved by the Parliament in 1999, but was defeated in the 2000 referendum. Zimbabwe will hold a referendum on the new constitution next year on June 30, the Constitution Select Committee (Copac) has announced.

This is an update of what Zimbabweans are talking about online about the constitution-making process. The Editor at The Zimbabwean, a Zimbabwean online news site, discusses violence that took place at a constitutional outreach meeting Harare recently:

At the very beginning of the constitutional consultation process, a retired army major launched Operation Chimumumu, with the full backing of the Joint Operations Command – the cabal of generals that really rules Zimbabwe today. It has always been their firm intention that the people of Zimbabwe should not be allowed to exercise their right to freedom of expression.

The generals, he argues, control the means of power in Zimbabwe:

The generals’ control of the means of power is evidenced by the behaviour of the police last weekend. The COPAC consultations in Harare have been suspended because of political violence. The media is full of reports that truckloads of policemen either sat and watched or actively participated in the violence – on the side of Zanu (PF). These reports prove beyond any reasonable doubt that innocent and law-abiding citizens cannot rely on the nation’s police force to protect them, or to maintain law and order.
It is ironic that before the COPAC meetings got underway, the Commissioner of Police, Augustine Chihuri, demanded – and received – millions of dollars to be paid to the force for the specific purpose of safeguarding the consultative meetings.
In future, COPAC would be better off paying for private security guards to provide protection at meetings – rather than wasting money to enable thugs in police uniform to disrupt their meetings, or to stand idly by while Zanu (PF) hooligans disrupt them.

Sokwanele publishes a press release about the violence:

Mandizvidza was one of 11 Mbare residents and Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporters who were assaulted by ZANU PF youths, supporters and some uniformed members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) on Sunday 19 September 2010 after attending a Constitutional Parliamentary Select Committee (COPAC) meeting at Mai Musodzi Hall in Mbare next to Mbare Musika bus terminus. The meeting was aborted after violence broke out.

The Messages From Zimbabwe writes, “Fears of 2008 Bloodbath”, asking if Zimbabwe is headed for another bloodbath:

There are growing fears that Zimbabwe is headed for another bloodbath as President Robert Mugabe pushes for elections next year – with or without a new and democratic Constitution seen as critical to ensuring that any new polls are bloodless.

A defiant Mugabe said last Thursday that he was fed up with the “stupidity” of some of his disputes with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and wanted a delayed constitution-making process speeded up to enable elections to be held by mid-2011. Responding for the first time to the latest dispute with Tsvangirai over the appointment of ambassadors and provincial governors, Mugabe said he wanted a new constitution to be ready by the end of the two-year term of Zimbabwe’s shaky coalition government next February.

“To give it another life of six months or one year no, no, no,” Mugabe said, referring to the coalition government he formed with Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara in February 2009.

Alice Chimora reports that the Amnesty International (AI) is appealing to rival Zimbabwe’s political leaders to abolish the death penalty as the southern African nation is attempting to craft a home grown constitution:

AI (Zimbabwean chapter) says Zimbabwe should join many other countries in Africa that have abolished capital punishment.

To mark the international day against the death penalty, the human rights watch dog said, ’’Amnesty International believes the constitution reform process provides an opportune moment for Zimbabwe’s political leadership to support abolition of the death penalty.

“Abolition of the death penalty in Zimbabwe will bring the country into league with progressive trend in Africa, where more countries are abolishing this inhuman and degrading punishment in defence of human rights.”

Media in Zimbabwe publishes a report released by The Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe about the role of public and private media covering constitutional reform process:

However, both the official and private media paid little attention to the
administrative aspect of the constitutional outreach programme. None of them,
for example, asked the Copac to disclose the number of outreach meetings left,
apart from Harare, as well as a breakdown of the number of people who had
participated in the outreach and the figure it had targeted.
Neither did these media seek comment on the consequences of a possible
rejection of the outcome of the outreach programme and the referendum
scheduled for next year.
While the government media dismissed reports of violence in the outreach
programme, the private media quoted another Copac co-chairman Paul
Mangwana confirming its existence (The Financial Gazette, 7/10).
SW Radio Africa (4/10) quoted the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) and
the Zimbabwe Students Union (ZINASU) urging Zimbabweans to reject the
outcome of the outreach, which the MDC-T described as “a circus” (Studio 7,

Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni, a Senior Researcher, South African Institute for International Affairs in South Africa, has written an informative post about the constitution and constitutional making process in Zimbabwe. He begins his post:

Zimbabwe is currently undertaking a constitution making process partly to fulfil provisions of the Global Political Agreement (GPA), partly to afford citizens an opportunity to contribute to the making of a ‘democratic indigenous’ constitution and partly to afford the nation an opportunity to transcend the past of violence, authoritarianism, impunity and arbitrary rule. Since 1980, Zimbabweans have not had an opportunity to actively take part in constitution-making. The constitutional process that ended in the ‘no vote’ in February 2000 was a lost opportunity largely because of the interference of the ruling elites with the views of the people.

Since 2000 civil society organisations particularly the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) has not rested in putting the issue of the constitution at the centre of any possible transition or change of government in Zimbabwe. To win the hearts and minds of the electorate, political gladiators particularly those hailing from the opposition have not stopped promising Zimbabweans a new constitution for a new Zimbabwe if elected as new government. The former ruling party ZANU-PF seemed to be happy with the current constitution that gave its leader President Robert Mugabe sweeping executive powers. It had to be dragged kicking and screaming to accept the current process of constitution-making. This was clearly demonstrated by some ZANU-PF activists who tried to disrupt the first meetings organised to launch the new constitution-making process in 2009.

He concludes by saying that “There is a danger of the ongoing constitution-making process remaining hostage to the friction between partisan politics of the day and the horizon of a new Zimbabwe”:

As the constitutional outreach programme spreads its tentacles into communities to tap into citizens’ views, one is left wondering if finally ‘the people’ have been liberated from the narrow identities of belonging to political parties rather than to the nation of Zimbabwe. This crisis plays into the hands of the political actors in ZANU-PF and MDC who are comfortable with being defined as representing the people. Are there no people outside ZANU-PF and MDC who are loyal Zimbabweans? How can a people defined by political belonging help in crafting a national constitution? In other words, how can ZANU-PF and MDC people come up with a national constitution? How can such a constitution escape the inevitable constraints of partisan opinions? The Kenya example must be avoided where partisan squabbles led to the failure to come up with a people-driven constitution. To transcend this hurdle, Kenyans had to have a select committee of experts standing in for the people to engage in a secondary process of harmonising the divergent views into a draft national constitution that will then be opened to a referendum. Can Zimbabwe escape this route?

There is a danger of the ongoing constitution-making process remaining hostage to the friction between partisan politics of the day and the horizon of a new Zimbabwe. Only a people acting as a national collectivity putting the nation first and political belonging second are able to come up with a new national constitution working closely with their representatives. An aggrieved, injured, unreconciled and unhealed society, can easily misinterpret the constitution-making process for a forum where they have to vent anger and the whole exercise ending up constrained by short-termism.

You may visit Sokwanele's constitution resource page, which is designed to make it easier for Zimbabweans and friends of Zimbabwe to compare different thinking on critical constitutional issues.

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