Don’t give up on the Constitution

Will we get a real people’s constitution this year? That sounds mighty unlikely now. Does that mean we should stop trying to get one? Of course not.

Does it mean we need to accept a compromise as a step on the way? Maybe. If you accept this answer, you will probably soon find, if you haven’t done so already, that your neighbour’s idea of an acceptable compromise is not the same as yours.

This is beginning to get complicated. Does that mean we should sit on our hands and do nothing? Nobody should give up before the referendum. If you choose to congratulate yourself on the result after it is held and accept what will probably be a messy compromise as if the Kingdom of God had arrived, you would only be repeating the mistake too many of us made in 1980. Even if we get the best constitution you could imagine, the Kingdom of God will still not have come. Any human arrangement, however good, is not perfect and, most important, it is not incorruptible. Sitting back and doing no more, even with a near-perfect constitution, would also be to repeat the mistakes of 1980. Decay and corruption will still come, but probably a bit more slowly.

It might be difficult to get everyone, especially those who are used to holding power, to obey a new constitution. That is the first obstacle we should expect. Then it doesn’t take long for some people (and we don’t know who they might be yet) to find loopholes in any constitution, however good it may be, or to invent interpretations of it that favour them.

It is more likely that whatever comes out of the present confusion will be another compromise, a cease-fire agreement just as the Lancaster House constitution was a cease-fire agreement. That means its weaknesses will show up soon. We might be able to amend it, but, as we have seen, it would be better to buy a new car than to try to panel-beat the old one into something it wasn’t designed to be. We might need another new constitution when we have removed the obstacles we had to face in writing the COPAC draft.

The main message in all this is that we must avoid the mistake we made in 1980. We almost identified Independence with the Kingdom of Heaven, so we felt we could take a rest. No human arrangement is so perfect that it can’t be improved, or so strong that it can’t be corrupted. We did worse than accepting a human constitution and a few fine words about reconciliation as the best of all possible worlds. We accepted an image, and some of us invented an image, of our liberators that no human being and no political party can live up to. Don’t put all the blame on our independence leader or his party. We all share the blame.

Do you remember how, when some people started pointing out that Freedom had not come to celebrate her wedding with Independence, we didn’t want to hear? Do you remember when we used to notice things that weren’t right and say “surely he doesn’t know?” Did we try telling him?

Of course we had excuses. We even had good work we could do, like building Blair toilets and schools. We got on with those tasks, avoiding awkward questions about happenings in Matebeleland, election violence or ministerial corruption.

And so the things that had been swept under the carpet in the name of reconciliation festered, fermented and eventually blew the carpet away. We would not have got into that mess if we’d had a few more people who, like Gandhi, showed they were ready to lose everything for the sake of a more human and fair society. Let’s try to be those people now, so that a few temporary comforts and partial successes don’t distract us from the constant vigilance which is the price of freedom.

This may sound grim, but there is hope. The forces of darkness are no better organised than the forces of light. Good is great and it will prevail.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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