Africa, Headlines

ZIMBABWE-POLITICS: Thou Shalt Not Give Up Your Right…

Stanley Kwenda

HARARE, Feb 6 2009 (IPS) - Among the vital tasks spelled out in the Global Political Agreement (GPA) that frames Zimbabwe's power-sharing government is the drafting of a new constitution. Even before the process begins, it is under challenge from Zimbabwean civil society.

A national Civil Society Constitutional Conference was held in Harare on Feb. 6 to propose an alternative road map for a new constitution. In a communiqué released at the end of the one-day meeting held in Harare, the participants – drawn from over 100 civil society groups – agreed to oppose the crafting of the country's constitution by parliamentary representatives as outlined in the GPA.

Under the deal, signed last September between the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu PF) and the two Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) parties, it was agreed that a new constitution would be drawn up, led by a parliamentary committee.

According to Article 6 of the GPA, the select committee will be composed of members of parliament and representatives of the civil society, but the committee will have final say in the crafting of a draft.

"People must write their own constitution directly, not through politicians, parliamentarians or government. The surest way to make sure that a constitution is respected is if it is written by the people themselves and carries their word," said Lovemore Madhuku, the chairperson of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA).

He told the conference politicians should not be left to drive the constitutional process because they are interested only in consolidating political power, here referring to the many amendments to the 1979 constitution which have only strengthened President Robert Mugabe's grip over the past thirty years.

"Article 6 is a direct insult to the need for a people-driven constitution. It is an arrogant approach to the whole constitution-making process," said Madhuku.

The meeting was attended by over 200 delegates drawn from organisations representing the youth, students, labour, artists, women groups, street traders, human rights groups, cross border traders, teachers associations, church groups and lawyers.

Zimbabwe is governed under a 1979 constitution agreed at the Lancaster House talks in London. The constitution has been amended 19 times since the country's independence from Britain in 1980.

The latest amendment on Feb. 5 made provision for the establishment of a government of national unity through the creation of the post of Prime Minister which the country abolished in 1987.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions president (ZCTU), Lovemore Matombo also feels the current plan to redraft the constitution is flawed from the outset.

"It is merely an act of consolidation of power taking us back to the era of one-party states. Constitution making processes are algebraic in nature. If you don't get the formulae right, then you won't get the answer right."

In 1999, Zimbabwe went through a lengthy constitutional review which involved public consultations throughout the country. The process was led by the Cidyausiku Constitutional Commission, made up of 400 commissioners appointed by President Mugabe. It culminated in a draft constitution which was roundly rejected by civil society groups.

Civil society had engaged in a parallel process which produced its own draft constitution. Citizens' groups, particularly the NCA, campaigned vigorously against the government's version, leading to its rejection in a referendum in 2000.

"Any piecemeal constitutional making process will be rejected in the same manner," Madhuku told IPS.

Kumbirai Kadenga, who identified herself simply as a member of Zimbabwe's labour movement, emphasised the importance of writing a new constitution.

"This process is a revolution," she told the conference. "The constitution is a supreme law which either cements or takes away power from the powerful to give to the majority, which is not a desirable thing for the powerful. Hence the need to make sure that the process is put in the hands of the people."

Takura Zhangazha of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) described the conference as an "Obama Moment" in reference to the phenomenal political successes of the first black American president.

"The process is about addressing the present and the future. We are here to think beyond the political leaders and seek to address the people's bread and butter issues. This is an Obama moment which will set path for the Zimbabwe that we all want," said Zhangazha.

The meeting also had its other moments when Madhuku told the gathering that he was going to add the need for a people-driven constitution as an eleventh biblical commandment.

"The right to write our own constitution is a right by creation, therefore I shall add it as one of the biblical commandments: Thou shall not give up your right to author a constitution for yourself," said Madhuku.

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