Zim’s New Constitution: A False Dawn

By Prince Tongogara

Harare, December 16, 2013 – The setting sun and approaching dusk seem to have no effect on his mood.

John Dehwe’s empty gaze remains fixed on the distant horizon with hunched shoulders and his unkempt head resting in his right hand.

This is the pose of a man seeing his dream vanishing before him.

Dehwe sighs twice, blinks and his lips part into a half smile but the despair in his eyes do not change as he shifts a moment to talk to me. He is talking about his life of unemployment, staying in an unplanned slum of Hopley farm, west of the sprawling Chitungwiza dormitory town and southern end of middle class Waterfalls suburb. What with the threat of demolition by those he voted for during the July harmonized elections.

His voice cracks as he speaks with unbridled derision at politicians who promised the country so much when they traversed the length and breadth of Zimbabwe gathering citizens’ views for the new constitution.

The electorate overwhelmingly approved the resultant Constitution Bill during March 2013 referendum.

The three main political parties in the coalition government, Zanu PF and the two MDC party formations all campaigned for a ‘yes’ vote.  The constitution unlike the Lancaster House document has an enlarged Bill of Rights encompassing much of the second generation rights such as shelter, health and education.

However, the new constitution adopted in May after it was gazetted by President Robert Mugabe, remains just a document without touching the citizens’ lives.

Dehwe wistfully speaks about the change that with each passing day is nothing but a mirage in the life of the common man.

“Every passing month the reality is sinking in that having a new constitution was deceptively sold to us as the destination yet we are clearly to enjoy any of the new rights,” Dehwe says. “In Hopley farm we still live without water and sewer reticulation and the economy is going down and very little is happening at Mbare Siyaso informal market where I used to get part time employment,” added Dehwe.

Not only does Dehwe has to contend with these mounting challenges but he now faces the risk of being left homeless as the government mulls a second ‘Operation Murambatsvina’ starting with Chitungwiza and Seke environs.

The operation seeks to demolish all unplanned structures.

“I am apprehensive about the government’s proposed operation to destroy our homes worse still at the onset of the rainy season, this government is insensitive to the poor,” he said.

Dehwe’s concerns seem valid as the government is now set on a privatisation path with many essential social services now being prepaid. The government is unrolling pre-paid meters for electricity and water nationally at households despite the majority of the citizens earning below the poverty datum line (PDL) of $504 a month.

Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (Zimcodd) programmes officer Hopewell Gumbo said social and economic rights remain very low on the priority list of the government despite the adoption of a new charter.

Gumbo said: “There is no doubt social and economic rights have been violated and perpetrators are not ashamed of this pathetic situation. While the cholera outbreak killed over 4 000 people in 2008, authorities are content with a situation where access to water remains a privilege in modern day Harare.”

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) concurs with Gumbo’s observations that nothing has really changed in the country after the adoption of the new constitution.

ZLHR member lawyer Alec Muchadehama said things have remained unchanged since the adoption of the new charter early this year.

“The judiciary is under the same challenges it was facing in 2012 such as state violations of human rights, constant fear of the citizens and lack of freedoms,” Muchadehama said.

Dehwe mournfully said the more things change the more they stay the same for the majority especially among the poor. “The constitutional changes are merely cosmetic nothing of substance has improved in the country since the adoption of the new charter if not got worse,” he said.

Dehwe’s life and troubles are a microcosm of the majority poor Zimbabweans whose dreams of a better future when the country adopted a new constitution are quickly vanishing before their own eyes. Enjoyment of the new rights remains a mirage as the people come to the reality that the new charter could be a ‘deferred dream’.

For now 2014 beckons with nothing being done to put into practice the new changes included in the new constitution. The constitution writing and adoption process to many citizens now is a mere false dawn of democracy which was celebrated a day too early.