Glimpses of hope at COPAC mtgs

constitution_reformsHARARE Amidst the reports of intimidation by Zanu (PF) youths, poor turn outs and the arrests of independent observers, it has been encouraging to learn that in some parts of the country ZZICOMP observers are working with COPAC to create space for local communities to share their views on the constitution.

The observers noted some warming relations between them and COPAC. ZZZICOMP observers have since been accredited and are officially recognized as observers in the ongoing outreach programme.

The observers were encouraged by those incidents (though few) in which meetings were reportedly conducted in an atmosphere in which people were generally free to express their views. Among the cited cases were, among others, meetings held in the constituency of Chivi South.

ZZZICOMP also positively noted that although the outreach process remains saddled with incidents of low turnout at some of its meetings, the outreach programme made noticeable inroads, holding a total of 347 meetings in the various wards of the eight provinces in which the outreach programme is currently underway

Youths intimidate

Despite this, stories of intimidation at the hands of Zanu (PF) youths have been rife. A District Administrator in Masvingo has gone into hiding fearing for his life after he was threatened by Zanu (PF) militia for his contributions at a Constitutional outreach meeting at Chivi Centre.

Bernard Hadzirabwi, the District Administrator for Chivi District, is in trouble after suggesting in his contribution that the countrys Prime Minister should have executive powers.

After receiving the threats on several occasions, Hadzirabwi has not reported for duty since last week, fearing for his life.

In another incident, Zanu (PF) District Coordinating Committee (DCC) Chairperson, Sanders Magwizi, summoned the head of the District Development Fund (DDF) in the area, Ernest Temba, to his office.

It is alleged that Temba made contributions that are against Zanu (PF)s views during a COPAC outreach meeting in the area.

In the same district, an official in the Ministry of Womens Affairs, Gender and Community Development has also received violent threats from the Zanu (PF) youths for the contributions he made at the outreach meeting held at Chivi Centre.

Meanwhile, in Manicaland a ZZZICOMP monitor was detained for more than three hours on Friday last week following a COPAC outreach meeting in Mutasa North Ward 4 at Dumba Business Centre.

John Ziyera, 29, who was observing the proceedings, was detained after Zanu (PF) supporters accused him of being a stranger.

An analysis

An analysis of incidents surrounding the constitution meetings strongly point to an operational environment that is visibly polarized along party lines, and an environment in which people generally feel politically insecure and less inclined to express their political feelings in public.

People have been, among other factors, generally reluctant to make contributions at outreach meetings out of fear that video- and voice-recorded contributions will be used by perpetrators of violence to trace those who would have departed from set constitutional positions being pushed by their political party hierarchy.

ZZZICOMP also noted with concern that incidents of coaching remain among the most commonly cited malpractices posing serious threats to members of the public freely expressing themselves at outreach meetings. At outreach meetings, coaching is plainly manifest when people are seen reading from prepared scripts, or when people simply rehearse party constitutional positions that are sometimes irrelevant to questions being asked by COPAC Teams, or when people make a contribution which they themselves clearly do not understand, or when very few people make contributions even where the meeting is highly attended, among others.

Cancellation concerns

Another area of concern is that scheduled meetings continue to be either cancelled or rescheduled, in some cases by people who are not members of the COPAC Team.

At Avoca Primary School in Ward 7 in Bindura North constituency in Mashonaland Central, a meeting that was scheduled for 1 July was reportedly cancelled after only 8 people (who included suspected members of the CIO) had turned up

Equally as worrying are continued reports of incidents in which COPAC Teams reportedly fail to turn up at scheduled venues, in some cases with no explanation, leaving people who would have in some cases turned up in large numbers disappointed. In Mashonaland East province, COPAC Teams reportedly failed to turn up at a meeting that was scheduled for 4 July at Crowhill Primary School in Ward 6 of Goromonzi South. This was also the case at Rhodes Store in Ward 3 in Goromonzi South constituency in Mashonaland East province where the COPAC team reportedly failed to pitch up for the scheduled meeting. Implied in these experiences is that COPAC administrative and logistical hitches are not yet over, and effective communication networks are not available to the public, or are not being utilized.

Poor turn out

While 347 meetings may have been recorded as successfully held meetings, the extent to which these meetings may have provided a democratic, transparent and inclusive platform for gathering citizen views, remains suspect.

It is even more suspect given that, of the 347 meetings held in the period under review, 156 [49.2%] were low attendance cases with a visible spread in five provinces that include the Midlands province with 30.13% [47] cases, Matebeleland North province with 22.4% [35] cases, Mashonaland East province with 15.4% [24] cases, Masvingo province with 14.1% [22] cases and Matebeleland South province with 12.8% [20] cases. In this report, a low attendance case is where less than 100 people in a ward attended an outreach meeting.

The prospects are even most suspect, given reports of cases where meetings reportedly went ahead even where less than 20 people were in attendance.

Recommendations

ZZZICOMP made the following recommendations for COPAC to consider in order that the constitution meetings be as effective as possible:

COPAC should urgently investigate emerging cases of low attendance and snubbing of meetings especially by the youth.

COPAC should make a follow up to reported incidents of outreach-related malpractices. This would go a long way in building confidence among members of the public. The tendency by COPAC to either flatly deny or profess ignorance when issues are reported is hardly in the interest of the transparency and acceptability of the information-gathering process.

All parties in the unity government should respect and protect the rights of freedom of expression and association to ensure that everyone has unfettered access to outreach consultation meetings.

Any identified practices at meetings that suggest coaching, organized or selective participation should be promptly dealt with by the COPAC Team Leaders and members collectively, and reported.

State media should provide information which is in the public interest in relation to upcoming meetings. It should also give unbiased and substantive coverage to issues of violence and other ongoing malpractices. Currently, its coverage is restricted to administrative hitches affecting COPAC.

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