When constitutions fail to usher true freedom

By Rejoice Ngwenya

Only did I discover early in my ‘political career’ how constitution making or constitutionalism is not as an exact body of critique as rocket science. However, bizarre human emotions, unfulfilled expectations, scandals, deceptions, corruption and intrigue encountered in the topography of real-life politics may not be as pronounced but are equally prevalent at Kennedy Space Centre.  In other words, NASA and its partners invest billions of dollars in pursuit of human colonies on Planet Mars. We just hope they will. Similarly, governments and their stakeholders spend billions of dollars on promises to transform countries into earthly paradise. With miniscule success.

Constitution making is 18th Century old but for us Zimbabweans; we have only ‘just recently’ experienced its vagaries, vices and virtues more or less four times to date. In 1965, Ian Smith and his Rhodesian Front – for want of a better term – seceded from Imperial Britain with a new constitutional order entrenching discriminatory and oppressive governance. This archaic governance contraption raptured in 1979 at Lancaster House where nationalists Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe submitted to a ‘ceasefire’ arrangement ushering another constitutional order – the advent of Black Majority Rule and ‘Independence’ (I do not synonymise Black Majority Rule and Independence with ‘freedom’).

Now we know. Constitutions, even with the best of intentions as James Madison’s 1778 ‘we the people’ model, will never be the epitome of absolute freedom. If they were, Americans would not be talking about ‘black lives matter’ almost two hundred fifty years on. Constitutional imperfection has nothing to do with ‘western democracy’. It is a clone of humanity. Communists have also had constitutions for decades, yet it’s 2020 but most Russians, Cubans, North Koreans and Chinese still ‘can’t breathe’ either. Sometimes I feel it is better to go British without mortgaging political expectations against utopian constitutional paradigms. Their system of governance has managed just fine with statutes.

That approach would be suicidal in Africa. Left to own statutory discretion, African leaders can easily etch isobars of genocidal insanity on their countries. Constitutions – dysfunctional as they are – still impose a semblance of bizarre order. So in 1999 Zimbabweans underwent a truly national constitution making process meant to exorcise the diabolic one party state demon by ushering a new era of multiparty governance. I was embedded deep in the process with ‘constitutional stalwarts’ Professor Walter Kamba, Ibo Mandaza, Joyce Kazembe, Ben Hlatshwayo and of course Professor Jonathan Moyo. Luphi Mushayakarara-Gararirimo dragged me there – kicking and screaming – to facilitate the ‘Independent Commissions Committee’. Mugabe inflamed this constitution by legitimising commercial farm property rights violations.

The last cycle of people-driven constitution making process came 2009 to entrench democratic rule under the Government of National Unity. We thought we had breached that evasive bridge of true popular freedom but bizarre human emotions, unfulfilled expectations, scandals, deceptions, corruption and intrigue are still with us. What shall it take to make Zimbabwe trully free?

Rejoice Ngwenya of  Ruwa, Zimbabwe is a social and political commentator