Fiction and frequencies in constitution-making

The current constitution-making process has been fraught with all kinds of controversies as the three political parties currently represented in Parliament have sought to outdo each other in getting their positions included.

Perhaps the most controversial issue pertains to the so-called frequencies that are alleged to be contained in the so-called National Report. There is currently no agreed definition of the term frequencies. To members of some of the political parties in Copac, the term means the number of times an issue or a position was mentioned during the outreach stage of the process. To others, the term simply indicates the number of meetings held in the various urban and rural wards. The heart of the controversy relates to whether or not the figures contained in the National Report indicate the popularity or otherwise of any given issue or position or preference. It is the considered view of this writer that the figures in the National Report cannot be assumed to be indicative of the popularity or otherwise of an issue or preference. My reasoning follows: Right from the outset, it was agreed by all parties involved that the people of Zimbabwe would not be asked to vote in favour of or against any issue, position or preference during the outreach meetings. Rather, all the issues mentioned by the people in response to the set questions would be recorded as part and parcel of what the people said. There was, therefore, no scientific or quantitative determination of how many people were in favour or against any proposed issue, position or preference. There was no voting and there was no counting of people in relation to their acceptance or rejection of any responses to the questions asked by Copac officials during the outreach. To treat the number of meetings where an issue was mentioned as indicative of its popularity with the people of this country is deceptive – plain and simple. Demographic data gathered by Copac clearly indicates that some meetings were attended by as few as 300 people, while other meetings had as many as 2 -3,000 people.

To regard both these sizes of meetings as equal through the use of the current frequencies is an attempt to fabricate facts where mere fiction exists.

Further, it is common cause that at least one political party engaged in the bussing of activists from one meeting to another for the purpose of ensuring that its preferred issues and positions would be noted at as many meetings as possible. Indeed, some of the activists were later recognised and challenged by Copac officials who accused them of seeking to unduly influence others.

It would therefore be deceptive to regard the numbers of these meetings and the mention of certain specific issues and positions as denoting their popularity with the generality of the people. What makes this situation even more ridiculous is the fact that the same political party often engaged in the intimidation of ordinary people who attended the meetings and sought to prevent them from speaking. Copac officials made strenuous efforts to assure ordinary Zimbabweans that they were free to speak out, but the violence of June 2008 was still too fresh in the minds of many for them to take any risks.

Ironically, this same political party now would like Copac to use the number of meetings as relating to the frequency and popularity of what should be contained in the draft constitution. This cannot and must not be allowed to happen.

Copac records indicate that some meetings were disrupted by unruly individuals, supporters of one political party that was opposed to the idea of people freely speaking their minds about what they wanted in the new constitution. In some cases, second attempts were made to hold the meetings, but this was not always possible.

There were some areas where the people’s views were not expressed to Copac. The use of the so-called frequencies thus becomes fictitious – as it gives the impression that the environment in which the meetings were conducted was ideal throughout the country. Nothing can be further from the truth. The people who could not express their views because the meetings had been disrupted are also Zimbabweans, but their aborted meetings are not in any way represented in the current frequencies. Finally, the so-called frequencies, to the extent that they are merely the number of recorded outreach meetings held in some parts of the country, totally negate the reality that some of the views, positions and preferences gathered by Copac were written submissions from the Diaspora, from professional organisations, churches and civic groups. The use of the so-called frequencies to determine the content of the draft constitution would result in all these written views and preferences being thrown away or regarded as of no significance.

It would be a travesty of justice to regard all the views submitted in writing as irrelevant to the nature and content of the much awaited foundational law of our country.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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