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Zimbabwe Briefing - Issue 118
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (SA Regional Office)
October 09, 2013

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Challenges of old order in a new Constitutional dispensation

President Mugabe’s infamous statement speaks of the interwoven relationship between the votes and the guns as a power retention strategy “our votes will defend our guns and our guns will defend our votes, the two are inseparable.” The above citation has in part guided Zanu-PF’s power retention strategy in the past three decades. This political-military nexus has been more manifest during the first seven years of independence and also post 2000 when Zanu-PF faced a serious challenge to power.

Now that the country has its own constitution drafted and authored by Zimbabweans, the country awaits to see the extent to which the constitution will become the guarantor of votes and not the guns as suggested by President Mugabe. The new constitution if implemented should end the militarisation of politics and politicisation of the military.

Having been endorsed by the country’s major political parties (Zanu-PF, MDC-T, and MDC) and other civil society organisations across the political divide, it is the hope of many Zimbabweans that this new term under a homegrown constitutional dispensation will present a new democratic order. Save for some discriminatory elements like limiting rights on gays and lesbians, the new constitution could be a positive development as the country finds its feet in the right direction.

Some of the issues that generated both attention and interest include but are not limited to devolution, presidential term limit, proportional representation system in senate and inclusion of women in the executive arm of the state, are positive developments that need to be applauded. Of course these developments beyond anything came as part of bargains by the country’s leading political actors in a bid to please and appease respective constituencies. It is undoubtable that for example, devolution received extensive support from MDC while, MDC-T fought hard for the limit of presidential terms. Zanu-PF on the other hand backed clauses like the barring of homosexuality in the country, at least the legalisation of the matrimony.

The MDC led by Professor Welshmen Ncube branded as regional party singled out Matabeleland region as having been disenfranchised from the national economy. Devolution, in a way was meant to promote retaining of economic value to respective regions and also limit executive arm in provinces were the president does not enjoy power. The MDC-T led by Tsvangirai promoted two term limits after realisation that Mugabe had almost become an imperial leader due to the silence by the Lancaster constitution on term limits. On the other hand Zanu-PF, with its leader famous for calling gays and lesbians “less than pigs and digs“ sought to delegitimise gay affairs.

However, of importance is not the drafting and enacting of the country’s new constitution, but it is the upholding of this new constitution that matters most. Respect of the country’s constitutional order has been the major challenge as successive Zanu-PF governments defied the country’s laws whenever it posed challenges to the regime’s power retention agenda. Even with the Lancaster constitution Zimbabwe could have been properly governed but of interest now will be observing the extent to which the current executive arm will uphold and defend the country’s own authored constitution.

The first challenge Zimbabwe will face in this new term will be respecting human and peoples’ rights enshrined in the constitution. No constitution gives the right to the security personnel to use violence and repressive apparatus for political gain but that has been the order of the day. Police Commissioners, Military Generals and Prisons top officials made manifest declarations of their political allegiance and even threatened a coup in the event that Mugabe lost the election. This term presents a litmus test for the government especially the judiciary’s role in upholding people’s rights.

One of the leading Zimbabwe political scientists, Dr Ibbo Mandaza was cited in a newspaper article lamenting the new government’s failure to uphold the new constitution on equality between males and females in executive arm of the government as mandated by the new constitution. “The Zanu-PF executive arm of government appended its signature in the new constitution only to violate it a few months later,” Mandaza is reported to have said. The new constitution is specific on gender equality, calling for equal representation of women in all sectors and arms of government.

These two examples provide a serious test to the incumbent regime in as far as defending human and people’s rights is concerned and also upholding the constitution. As already indicated Zanu-PF has started undermining the very same constitution it fought for during the referendum. The challenges as in the past have always been on upholding the constitution and respecting people’s rights, hopefully this time around changes will be effected. It is paramount to note that a constitution by itself isn’t enough but it is useful in setting in motion a country’s pursuit for democratic order. Even in a country like South Africa with a constitution idolised world over, the country is still grappling with upholding and implementation of its constitutional provisions.

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