No rights without accessible Constitution: Mudenda

Zimbabweans will not enjoy their human rights if the Constitution remains inaccessible to people of different local languages, says speaker of the National Assembly, Jacob Mudenda.

Jacob Mudenda
Jacob Mudenda

Presently, the Constitution is only in English.

Speaking at the recent signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Parliament and the Zimbabwe Law Society in Harare recently, Mudenda said the Constitution should be written in all 16 local languages for it to be understood by all.

“There cannot be rights for the people when some citizens do not understand contents of the supreme law of the country due to language barrier,” said Mudenda.

Mudenda said every citizen had the right to access the Constitution through understanding of its contents in order to benefit from the provisions.

He said Zimbabwe should emulate South Africa which translated its Constitution to all local languages including Braille.

Civil Society, Mudenda said, should help mobilise resources and conduct workshops to enlighten people about provisions of the Constitution and constitutionalism.

President of the Zimbabwe Law Society, Lloyd Matiwenga Mhishi, noted that several existing laws were unconstitutional and everybody should contribute towards the realignment of the laws to the Constitution.

Mhishi concurred with Mudenda that there was need to educate people on the provisions of the Constitution.

“A significant number of laws in the Constitution were crafted by my organisation and people should embrace them and assist in their alignment with the supreme law,” Mhishi said, acknowledging that alignment of the laws would be a process not an event.

In its pro-active approach, Mhishi said, his society would craft model laws for Parliament.

The Law Society would be available to law makers and parliamentary committees for purposes of law formulation.

The Zimbabwe Law Society made up of some 1, 500 diversified lawyers promised to give professional guidance to Parliament in a professional and non-partisan manner.

Of the 16 Zimbabwe languages, English, Shona and Ndebele are the most widely spoken.

Other languages are Chewa, Chibarwe, Kalanga, Koisan, Nambya, Ndau, Shangani, Sign language and Sotho.

Tonga, Tswana, Venda and Xosa are some of the officially recognised languages of Zimbabwe.

An estimated 70 percent of Zimbabwe’s population speak Shona while some 20 percent speak Ndebele.

English is traditionally used for official business and regarded as the common language.

Recently, MDC-T Member of Parliament for Kuwadzana, Nelson Chamisa, raised the issue in Parliament and probed Minister of Legal Affairs, Emmerson Mnangagwa, on when the Constitution would be translated into the 16 vernacular languages.

Mnangagwa is yet to provide answers to the question.

Chamisa later told The Zimbabwean that: “According to Section 6 of the Constitution, the supreme law should be availed in all officially recognised 16 local languages.”

Zimbabwe is yet to align some 280 pieces of legislation with the new Constitution.

The Public Prosecutor’s office has since been created in line with the supreme law and Parliament recently embarked on public hearings regarding the Electoral Amendment Bill.

The public hearings were described by some stakeholders as mere window dressing as some provinces were not covered.

Limited participation by the public was also partly blamed on the failure by the Parliamentary Affairs Portfolio Committee to distribute a hard copy of the bill ahead of the meetings.

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