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  • New Constitution-making process - Index of articles

  • Zimbabwe Briefing - Issue 101
    Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (SA Regional Office)
    February 06, 2013

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    Reality check: Can No Vote sail at referendum?

    The National Constitutional Assembly has officially stated its position that Zimbabweans should reject the COPAC draft constitution when it is presented to them in a referendum because it's neither,'' people driven nor democratic''. In coming to its position the NCA raises reasons of both process and content, explicitly stating that the process has remained political party driven and therefore the content advances partisan interests at the expense of the views raised by the public during the outreach. While it is the democratic right of the membership of NCA and its leadership to rightly contest the draft, isn't this too late. What chances are there that they can reverse this process?

    Other than allowing citizens to raise their diverse views, an important aspect of democracy itself, the NCA's position is untenable. If anything this position will simply legitimize the COPAC process. The involved political parties will claim that their collectively agreed positions were endorsed by the public. Secondly, if the NCA concedes that the COPAC process is a product of electoral democracy in its purest minimalist sense, being implemented with the buy in of SADC, the AU and the international community based on an agenda for political stabilization, it is apparent that their campaign is futile from the start. Quite clearly there is domestic and international convergence on the need for stability. While the sequence of events leading to the final compromise over the COPAC draft may suggest conflicts among GPA parties, it does not seem there were any serious conflicts beyond strategic challenges and manoeuvring that comes with elite bargaining. In other words we are faced with elite convergence at a time when the public has grown politically weary to align behind any counter elites outside the main political parties.

    The COPAC draft with all its process and content adversities will pass for the national constitution. No doubt the agreement and convergence of positions amongst the formerly conflicting parties has sealed its fate. A combined backing by all the supporters of the three main political parties will see it carrying the day. This is neither surprising nor difficult to see or understand. Once civil society failed to convince Mbeki that they should have equally participated in the negotiations that culminated in the GPA, it was clear that they would stay in the margins of this process. Secondly the failure by civil society to set a rolling agenda, to be pro-actively ahead of political par-ties relegated them to junior partners in contemporary political processes, ensuring that political parties were seen as the most legitimate representatives of the people. It does not seem that this position cemented and ingrained in the psyche of the public during the elite driven processes characterizing the politics of the GPA is about to change.

    Indeed the GPA was a turning point with the country moving from the politics of mass protest to formerly embrace a negotiated settlement that left civil society at the margins. As with all elite pacts, the conditional sensitivities of ensuring mutual concession making, confidence, trust building that would result in new binding institutions and rules of conflict mediation called for selected actors to steer such a process. That the COPAC draft is laced with the institutional legacies of the prior regime is a reflection of the power relations and the strategic astuteness of the representatives of the concerned political parties at negotiations which constrained and limited any pro-reform manoeuvres to taking huge gambles by accepting minimum reform as the foundation for incremental change.

    We posit that in negotiations compromising is the way forward. It was a given that the par-ties would compromise at a very high cost to their agenda and their supporters. Yet it seems that even with such massive dicing in accepting the COPAC draft, political parties will carry the day. Hence it is too late to resist the transition process in general or the constitution making process in particular. Civil society can alternatively seek to broaden participation outside the state and engaging with issues that broaden the democracy discourse in our country, thus fostering democratic consolidation.

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