Plans for New Zimbabwe Constitution in Trouble

Country's powerful civil society groups object to the government’s constitution-drafting process.

Plans for New Zimbabwe Constitution in Trouble

Country's powerful civil society groups object to the government’s constitution-drafting process.

Thursday, 23 April, 2009
Zimbabwe’s inclusive government has started the process of drafting a new constitution – due to be introduced within the next 20 months – amid protests from civil society activists over what they see as the lack of public consultation.

The 25-member committee for the new constitution consists of members from ZANU-PF and the two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, which were parties to the September 2008 Global Political Agreement, GPA. The new constitution would replace the current document cobbled together at Lancaster House, London, in December 1979 which effectively ended colonial rule in then-Rhodesia.

The present constitution has been amended 19 times, the last being in February 2009 to formally pave the way for the formation of the inclusive government that created the prime minister’s post for Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leader.

But the coalition government of Tsvangirai, President Robert Mugabe and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara is now facing stiff opposition from the country’s vocal civil society organisations, CSOs, who are critical of the constitution-making process because they claim it has failed to take on board their views.

So acrimonious has the situation become that Tsvangirai has ordered his legislators not to take part in meetings with CSOs lobbying for a people-driven process. On April 11, all the members of parliament in Tsvangirai’s MDC faction boycotted a consultative meeting on the constitution called by the National Constitutional Assembly, NCA, arguably the most powerful CSO in the country.

Minister of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs Eric Matinenga, an MDC member of parliament, who is charged with responsibility of drafting the constitution, insists he has been consulting widely over the new document.

“It is people-driven, as we are consulting. We are speaking to everyone. I have held several stakeholder meetings,” said Matinenga. “It is wrong for people to assume that we will impose the Kariba draft on the people. We will be soliciting people’s views on the new constitution, not imposing a constitution on the people.”

But leading CSOs are unconvinced, suspecting the public will have little say in the drafting of the document.

The Zimbabwe Students Union, Zinasu, the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, CZC, and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, ZCTU, powerful allies of Tsvangirai, are among those who have condemned the process.

“The proposed constitution-making process is fundamentally flawed,” said Lovemore Madhuku, the chairman of the NCA. “We are not compromising, we reject it outright.

“Parliamentarians have no right to write a constitution on behalf of the people. The NCA will thus continue with its grassroots education campaign in a push for a new, democratic and people-driven constitution.”

According to ZANU-PF and the MDC, the proposed new constitution will borrow heavily from the Kariba draft constitution, agreed by the three political parties under the power-sharing arrangement sponsored by the Southern African Development Community.

The Kariba draft was written by ZANU-PF’s Patrick Chinamasa and Nicholas Goche, Tendai Biti from the Tsvangirai MDC and Welshman Ncube from Arthur Mutambara’s faction of party during the negotiations last year to set up an inclusive government.

Phillip Pasirayi, the coordinator of the Centre for Community Development in Zimbabwe, CCDZ, said the Kariba draft was a political party document, “People must not even debate it, not only because … lawyers in a boat in Kariba wrote it. So it is boat-driven and not people-driven. We need a meeting of the minds and the political parties need to compromise with us so that we do not squander again yet another golden opportunity to have a people-driven and democratic constitution.”

Fambai Ndirandi, the spokesman for the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations, Nango, warned that the MDC and ZANU-PF have already “achieved consensus on their own around the Kariba draft constitution and it would appear that there is a strong chance that the people will be relegated to the role of rubber-stamping the draft that’s most amenable to our political elites.

“Nonetheless, Nango and its entire constituency remains defiant in upholding the call for a people-driven constitutional reform process. We realise that it is not a given but it is something that we have to fight for – and fight for the rights of Zimbabweans to decide their destiny, we will.”

Jabu Shoko is the pseudonym of an IWPR-trained reporter in Zimbabwe.
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