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Constitutional Bill passes
Tandayi Motsi, The Herald (Zimbabwe)
August 31, 2005

THE historic Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No 17) Bill that seeks, among other issues, to provide for the re-introduction of the Senate, yesterday sailed through Parliament with minor amendments.

The House had to be divided on whether the Bill should be read for the third time with 103 lawmakers including Zanu-PF MPs, non-constituency MPs, chiefs and Provincial Governors voting in favour of it, while 28 MDC legislators and Independent Member of Parliament for Tsholotsho Professor Jonathan Moyo opposed its passage.

The Bill now awaits Presidential assent for it to become law.

According to Section 52 of the Constitution, at least a two-thirds majority vote in Parliament is required for any constitutional amendment to be effected.

Zanu-PF, which has 78 seats in the legislature, counted on the support of traditional chiefs, non-constituency MPs and Provincial Governors for the Bill to sail through Parliament.

Vice-Presidents Joice Mujuru and Joseph Msika were also present to throw their weight behind the proposed law, which seeks to conclude the land question by barring courts from hearing appeals on land acquisition.

Immediately after the Bill was passed at exactly 3:29pm, Zanu-PF lawmakers led by Gutu South MP Cde Shuvai Mahofa broke into song and dance, chanting "Zanu yahwina, baba (Zanu-PF has won)."

Not to be outdone, MDC legislators also started singing but in mockery of the ruling party.

For about five minutes, Speaker of Parliament Cde John Nkomo had to repeatedly call for order in the House before standing up and ringing the bell as the MPs from both sides drowned themselves in song and dance.

Before the Bill was passed, Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Cde Patrick Chinamasa told Parliament that the constitutional amendment was significant and far-reaching in that once land was acquired and gazetted, it would become State property.

"This will conclude the Third Chimurenga and the process of decolonisation," he said.

Government came up with the amendment in order to deal with legal bottlenecks that had arisen in the implementation of the land reform programme as white former commercial farmers previously on land that was acquired were delaying the programme by appealing to courts.

Under the Bill, courts would be barred from hearing appeals on land acquisition with aggrieved persons restricted to seeking recourse in the courts only for the purposes of determining any question related to payment of compensation for improvements on the acquired farms.

Cde Chinamasa said what was also notable about the land amendment was that it provided for the equal distribution of land among both men and women.

The reintroduction of the Senate, he said, was a well-intentioned and progressive move in that it would be instituted through an elective process while there would be equality of representation from all provinces.

The Bill provides for an Upper House of 66 senators of which five would be elected in each of the 10 provinces, plus the President and Deputy President of the Council of Chiefs and eight chiefs elected by the council to represent the eight non-metropolitan provinces.

Resident Ministers of Harare and Bulawayo Metropolitan Provinces would fill in the two seats left vacant in the Lower House following the placement of the President and Deputy President of the Council of Chiefs into the upper chamber.

The remaining six senators will be appointed by the President and these would represent special interest groups.

Turning to the clauses of the proposed law, which seek to restrict movement of Zimbabweans deemed to be intent on harming national interests, Cde Chinamasa said this was designed to deal with unpatriotic people.

"It is not patriotic for any Zimbabwean to campaign for military intervention in Zimbabwe or to campaign for sanctions," he said.

Addressing journalists outside the House soon after the passing of the Bill, Cde Chinamasa said that once it became law, Government would not hesitate to withdraw passports from such unpatriotic Zimbabweans.

The minister said the amendment to the land acquisition process would also create in excess of 500 000 owners with property rights unlike the situation that obtained before the commencement of the land reform programme when about 4 500 commercial white farmers owned at least 70 percent of the productive land.

However, MDC Chief Whip and Mutare Central MP Mr Innocent Gonese told journalists that the sailing through of the proposed law in Parliament was "a very sad day and sad chapter in the history of Zimbabwe".

He alleged that Zanu-PF was abusing its numbers in Parliament to bulldoze constitutional amendments that had far-reaching negative implications on the country.

Mr Gonese said since the ruling party had a total of 78 elected MPs it had no mandate to effect the constitutional changes.

However, Government Chief Whip and Mberengwa West MP Cde Joram Gumbo dismissed as baseless the allegations that Zanu-PF did not have the required two-thirds majority to amend the Constitution.

He said the traditional chiefs in Parliament, non-constituency MPs and Provincial Governors, who were appointed by the President, were affiliated to the Government.

The Bill also seeks to establish the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission as the sole body in charge of elections by increasing the number of commissioners from five to seven while abolishing the Electoral Supervisory Commission.

It has provisions outlawing discrimination based on physical disability while the Judiciary Services Commission would be mandated to be in charge of conditions of service for judicial officers.

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