New Threat To Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Debate

The constitution making process has been delayed due to lack of funding, squabbling between political parties and a general dislike for a new constitution by some sections of the political elite.

The process requires close to US$20 million and government has been battling to raise the money with a donor fatigue setting in. Donors want government to raise at least one third of the total cost for the process.

The three political parties, Zanu (PF) and the two Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formations led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, have been at loggerheads on a number of issues. The parties have been arguing on the composition of thematic committees, rapporteurs and the document to be used as the reference point.

Zanu (PF) has been pushing for the Kariba Draft that was prepared by negotiators drawn from the three parties in the resort town of Kariba, while the two MDC factions have backtracked on the use of the Kariba Draft opting for a questionnaire.

Members of Parliament from the three different parties formed a Constitutional Parliamentary Select Committee (COPAC) to spearhead the writing of the new charter.

A constitution is the supreme law of any country. No other law or government action can supersede the provisions of that country’s constitution.

In this vein, analysts say the process of drafting a constitution should involve as many Zimbabweans as possible. There must be intense consultations such as gathering ideas from ordinary citizens, civil society, political parties and churches. The objective is to ensure that the final constitution is legitimate, credible and accepted by all Zimbabweans.

However, the new threat that has potential to affect not only the process, but the quality of the final document has arisen. Common Zimbabweans, who are supposed to make input in the constitution making process, are not aware of what will be required of them.
Casper Taruvinga from Chiweshe, Mashonaland Central province, told RadioVOP that he was in the dark on the events surrounding the constitution making process.

“We are worried that we will not get a chance to air our views because we do not know when they will come to us. It is sad that the outreach team will not find many people when they come because information is lacking,” said Taruvinga.

Lack of information is appearing to be one of the major threats surrounding the constitution making process. Although a new media body, the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) was set up, the media landscape has still not improved. Only one state –owned daily exists and only about four weeklies, most of whom, have very limited reach. Zimbabwe is the only southern African country that still has only one television and one radio station.

This has the tendency of limiting information dissemination of the details of the constitution making process. Most Zimbabweans, especially in the rural areas, have very limited access to media and therefore remain not well informed.

“I cannot get the newspapers while radio and television transmission is poor so that means we miss out on all the announcements,” said Merita Liwewe, who works in grocery shop at Mount Darwin business centre.

The polarisation in the media fraternity has also complicated the situation as locals do not believe other sections of the media. State-owned newspapers, television and radio stations have in the last decades aligned with Zanu (PF) propaganda.
“I have problems listening to the public media because of their partisan attitude. I don’t trust them so it does not help for them to use such avenues to send information and expect everyone to know. They must open other private radio and television stations before they start the outreach programme,” said Liwewe.

The information gap has also helped Zanu (PF) to spread messages of intimidation through its structures. The party is accused of advising the rural folk that the process requires only one person to speak on behalf of a particular community.

Chiefs have been reported to be intimidating people that they are not allowed to speak when the constitutional outreach comes. The chiefs or herd men will speak on their behalf.

Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) who normally conduct civic training programmes, have been stopped, a move that is likely to result in people making uninformed decisions.

Some members of the civic society have been threatened with death if they go into the rural areas to educate people about the constitution making process. Zimrights director Okay Machisa said he and others had received text and email messages warning them of dire consequences if they do not comply.

Other civic society organisations have written to the mediator, South African President Jacob Zuma, to intervene in solving Zimbabwe’s volatile political situation and threats of intimidation.

Last month the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) said political tensions were on the rise in various parts of the country, especially in rural areas, which have been for many years been the stronghold for Zanu (PF).

ZESN said some provinces were volatile with some political parties barred from conducting meetings while in some parts of the country people were forbidden from reading independent newspapers.

Prominent political scientist, Takura Zhangazha, said the current constitution making process has “a limited chance to be inclusive in so far as this should include the majority stakeholders in the country that is citizens or citizens groups, and is to the greater extent driven by partisan political interests”.

“People will not feel as free as is preferable in terms of a people driven constitution making process.  The process that is currently underway is more like an electoral campaigning with the parties vying to persuade their supporters to merely support whatever their political principals feel should be in the document presented to a referendum,” said Zhangazha.

“Given the fact that has been a pre-emptive outreach by the political parties it is less likely that the outreach by COPAC will yield the desired results. All of this leads to a guarantee of a political party negotiated constitution which will be similar to Constitutional Amendment Number 19,” said Zhangazha. 

Constitutional Number 19, signed by all three parties, paved the way for the amendment of the constitution of Zimbabwe.

However COPAC has made inroads in ensuring that Zimbabweans living abroad will be informed and consulted.

“We have set aside US$97 000 to hire various consultants who will help us locate and deal with potential voters in the Diaspora who are interested in participating in the constitution making process,” said COPAC co-ordinator, Peter Kunjeku.

There are an estimated five million Zimbabweans living in the Diaspora, mostly in the United Kingdom, the United States of America (USA), South Africa, Botswana and Australia among other countries.

However, some independent analysts said they were worried that COPAC had no capacity to guarantee freedom of expression.

“We are worried that politicians are taking over the process. There are many threats to our members,” Nango President, Dadirai Chikwengo said. “Zanu (PF) has bases and they say these are Information Centres,” she said. “We are very worried about this too.”

Some organisations such as the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) have said the constitutional process is flawed and they will not participate in it.