New constitution: a tokenistic exercise for rich, corrupt, powerful

The Lancaster House Constitution was the best our country has had – so far. At least it represented a good start for a newly independent, democratic nation. The drafters did a good job that enabled stability and peace to prevail at least for a few years after independence. After that, political actors of all shades and orientations manipulated it into something quite different.

Lovemore Madhuku.
Lovemore Madhuku.

Some argue that the Lancaster document was heavily influenced by Western powers. The excesses and human rights violations happened during the struggle and the constitution had no inbuilt mechanisms to curtail or prevent or ensure accountability for a series of sad chapters and derelictions. The massacre of innocent civilians and the bombing of villages, heavily populated areas and camps as well as poisoning of water sources was unjustified and the constitution should have been more forceful and clearer as a framework.

It is indisputable that the Lancaster House Constitution was a compromise between the then Rhodesian Front and Zanu (PF) at the expense of other critical political and economic actors including ZAPU. The result was unjustified loss of blood in Matabeleland and the Midlands.

My thinking is that The Lancaster Constitution was more a sanitised political document than a constitution representing the aspirations, wishes and expectations of the broader Zimbabwean people – including the peasants and the disenfranchised. Anyway, after, a long, bloody and terrible war, who cared! Then we woke up one day and started thinking of a people-owned constitution!

In 2000 the first constitution-making process came up with a document, which, though not perfect, was a massive improvement from the Lancaster House treatise. The NCA came up with an equally substantive document but it lacked grassroots input particularly from rural communities. True, the NCA would argue that the political ground was very uneven, dangerous and that broader community based consultation was not possible. But the fundamental issue remains, the NCA draft though excellent was perceived largely as a one-person constitution – thought out and written by Lovemore Madhuku in the confines of his NCA headquarters.

The constitution is not about regime change

On reflection, I think that draft contained very critical ingredients that the government could have borrowed, shared with the populace and mainstreamed into their draft constitution. The government draft was roundly rejected. I have met many political analysts who vehemently expounded the view that the people did not reject the draft constitution, they did not reject the process but it was a rejection of Zanu (PF) and what it stood for.

In the district I was working then, you would ask people why they were voting NO and which sections of the draft were unacceptable and paradoxically, many people had not even read the draft constitution document. I voted NO and then read the draft constitution later. How wrong I had been!

This background serves to inform the current mayhem. The consultation process was highly politicised yet Zimbabweans aired their views candidly and fearlessly. A national constitution is not a political and partisan document. All political and non-political actors were expected to unite around this very noble cause. This did not happen as politicians from the major political parties selfishly promoted their partisan position at the expense of national virtues, ethos and reason.

The constitution is not about regime change. The constitution-making phase was not supposed to be a stone-throwing, political space expansion exercise. The forums were supposed to be focus group reflections, listening tours and detailed discussions of fundamental and cross-generational virtues, values and thinking.

Sadly, this was not the case. A process that could have been harnessed to promote national unity and reconciliation ended up being hijacked by political heavy weights that stubbornly postured and arrogantly promoted their partisan agendas.

The least we expect is a document that accurately captures and synthesises the variegated views from all walks of life – a document that reflects maturity and values that cut cross and inform all generations. A document that is not authored to reflect the whims of MDCs, ZANU (PF), and any political or non-political formation but one that captures the veins and arteries of the country.

There is still room for salvaging this embarrassing scenario. The coalition principals should for once courageously stand up and relieve the drafters of their duties and responsibilities. Second, the principals should publicly admit that the constitution-making process outcome has not been successful despite the massive investment committed by the fragile inclusive government.

We now have several drafts and pieces lying all over the landscape including the NCA draft. Why not immediately hire apolitical, professional, non-partisan, reputable drafters and use the document that would come out of this process for the referendum. A nice name like Constitution Synthesisers could do the magic. And Zimbabwe is rich in talent, intelligence and intellectual firepower! – Pambazuka News

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Post published in: Analysis

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