THE NGO NETWORK ALLIANCE PROJECT - an online community for Zimbabwean activists  
 View archive by sector


Back to Index

This article participates on the following special index pages:

  • Constitutional Amendment 18 of 2007 - Index of articles, opinion and anaylsis

  • Transcript of "Hot Seat" interview with Prof Welshman Ncube on Amendment No. 18
    Violet Gonda, SW Radio Africa
    September 25, 2007

    Visit the special index of articles, analysis and opinion on Constitutional Amendment 18

    On SW Radio Africa's 'Hot Seat' programme, journalist Violet Gonda interviews Professor Welshman Ncube, the secretary general of a faction of the MDC on the controversial Constitutional Amendment no.18 which both MDC formations have given their nod to:

    Violet Gonda: My guest on the programme Hot Seat today is Professor Welshman Ncube, the Secretary General of the Arthur Mutambara-led MDC formation. Thank you for joining us Professor Ncube.

    Welshman Ncube: Thank you.

    Violet: Now there are serious divisions over Constitutional Amendment no.18 and many especially in the civil society have accused the opposition of betraying the people by agreeing to the Amendments with the ruling party. Can you first of all tell us why both MDCs reached this agreement?

    Welshman Ncube: Well let me, Violet, first say that the agreement or understanding on Amendment no.18 must be understood in its proper context. I am dismayed at the dishonest presentation of what it stands for and taking it completely out of context. The context is that you have ongoing dialogue and discussions over a wide-range of issues, which have caused conflicts in our country. And as part of that process there came the issue of Amendment no.18, which Zanu PF wanted to pursue and that agreement is a side agreement within the context of a broader discussion.

    Why did we reach that agreement? Firstly, you have to realise that we have agreed in the dialogue that there are five items for negotiations. First: A new constitution for Zimbabwe. Secondly: New electoral laws. Thirdly: Reform of security legislation including POSA (Public Order and Security Act). Fourthly: reform of media laws including the Broadcasting Services Act as well as AIPPA (Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act). Then finally: the political climate in the country. Under the political climate you have such things as sanctions, the use of traditional leaders, the youth militias, violence and so forth and so on. All those things are on the agenda.

    And in our presentation in parliament on Tuesday the 18th, we made it very clear that the side agreement on Amendment no.18 does not detract to our commitment to a new constitution before the elections, and that within the auspices of the dialogue there is the understanding we are negotiating the modalities of how to come up with a new constitution before the elections.

    And the question is: how can we reconcile the Zanu PF position -- which has been unilateralist in the past, which has excluded public participation -- with our preferred position of having an open, transparent process which is as inclusive and is as participatory as possible? And that is what is being negotiated…how do we find a compromise between those two positions? And that has to be done before the elections and that is agreed upon and is being negotiated around.

    So it is very clear that when we therefore agreed to the deal on Amendment no.18 it was within a context of undertakings and understandings that the question of a new constitution before elections remains firmly on the agenda. That is the context that all those who have criticised this have, in my view, deliberately ignored because we have made it clear in our presentations in parliament. Even Zanu PF itself made it clear that this is a temporary measure pending agreement around the modalities on how to come up with a new constitution.

    Violet: But Professor Ncube, others would ask that if you are negotiating for a new constitution what is the point of wasting time amending the present constitution?

    Welshman Ncube: Good question. Remember in any negotiations you cannot get the perfect world you want. The perfect world we would have loved - if we could get it - was a situation where we did not have to deal with any piecemeal Amendments. But the world is not always perfect, you don’t always get what you want, you have to compromise. We were faced with a situation where Zanu PF was saying they have resolutions of its Central Committee, they have a commitment to proceed with Amendment no.18.

    If we did not want to discuss Amendment no.18 they would proceed with it as it was published. Or if we wanted to discuss it or were willing to discuss it or were persuaded to discuss it, we could then deal with our objections on content. What is it in the original Amendment no.18, which we were unhappy with? We then discussed that and we therefore were able to change significantly the original Amendment no.18.

    For instance: Out went the appointed members of the House of Assembly. Secondly: All elections were now synchronised in one day including local government, parliamentary as well as presidential. The variance factor in delimitation, which they were increasing to 25%, they agreed to put it back to 20%. The question of composition of Senate, which was disproportionately made of unelected people, we attempted to re-balance it by providing more senators who are elected. They became 60 of them. And all of those things are an improvement. A marked significant improvement on Amendment 18!

    If anyone then says it would have been better for us to allow Zanu PF to proceed unilaterally with an amendment, which contained many problematic provisions rather than at least improve on it, then I do not know what we want.

    For me and for us, it is better to have a better content than to have the worst possible content because we are saying we do not want to talk about Amendment no.18. Therefore in our view Amendment no.18 is a great improvement on content. Fair and fine there are those who will quibble with the question of whether or not this little concession does not violate the major principle of saying let us make a new constitution. In our view, it does not, for the simple reason that it is a stepping-stone to the bigger question. If we can clear Amendment no.18 and end up with an open and transparent constitution before the elections, what is the problem with that?

    Violet: But let’s assume it’s a step in the right direction as you seem to be implying here. What about the other outstanding issues - like the voter's roll, the eligibility of voters outside the country? Why couldn't you as the opposition “as a confidence building measure” persuade Zanu PF to allow postal votes or even to dismantle youth militia bases before you agreed to such an arrangement?

    Welshman Ncube: First of all with Amendment no.18. you could only discuss those issues, which were already raised in the public Amendment no.18. You could not start to add issues, which were not covered by the original Amendment no.18. That’s No 1. Secondly, all those issues, which you raised, are firmly on the agenda. I will not pre-empt and I will not disclose things, which are supposed to be confidential at this stage. But everything you have referred to is firmly on the agenda and being discussed.

    And indeed some of the issues you raised have actually been cleared in terms of the dialogue and you have to appreciate that everybody wants all the five items to be dealt with so that at the end of the dialogue you have one comprehensive agreement covering the five agenda items - the constitution, electoral laws, security legislation, media laws, the political... and some of them have been cleared or will be cleared. There will be compromises, there will be agreements around them. But because you have five items on the agenda all of which have to be cleared at the end of the dialogue, you cannot then have a situation where you are taking out some of those things. You need a comprehensive agreement covering all the five agenda items. And all those things you refer to are on the agenda.

    Violet: But when are the people or the general public going to find out what exactly is being discussed. And why is there so much secrecy about these talks between the political parties?

    Welshman Ncube: Well firstly, that question is best asked to SADC and the SADC leadership. The rules of the dialogue and engagement were set by SADC and were set by the mediator. In their wisdom they believed that negotiating in the glare of publicity would ensure -- in our polarised situation -- that each of the sides will focus more on public grand-standing and scoring points rather than doing proper negotiations. They then created the rule - which all the parties accepted - that the negotiations should remain, in terms of content, remain confidential. So I am not the best person to answer that question. That question is best answered by the mediator and SADC who in fact - in their wisdom, found it necessary to impose that confidentiality clause.

    Violet: But how then are you going to be held accountable for the decisions that you actually make if you can’t at least tell the public the process or progress of the talks?

    Welshman Ncube: Firstly we are accountable to the structures of the political parties we represent and we report confidentially to our National Councils, Zanu PF to its Central Committee or Politburo, the two MDC formations to their National Councils and that is where the accountability lies, in the first instance.

    Violet: But does it not bother you as the opposition leadership that there is nobody else - even from the civic society - being informed but yourselves. Is this not elitist?

    Welshman Ncube: No it is an issue between the mediator and the civic society.

    Violet: Now the common understanding right now is that you have sold out, as the opposition, and some prominent civic leaders have called it a betrayal of principles - in the way that you have agreed to these amendments with the ruling party. What can you say about this?

    Welshman Ncube: Firstly, everybody has a right to form the opinion they form. We respect the opinion held in good faith by anyone who holds that opinion. Regrettably, in our view, that opinion is misinformed and downright wrong. As I have explained previously, without having to repeat myself, there is no sell-out agreement of any kind. This is a comprehensive dialogue. The agreement on Amendment no.18 must be understood within the context of a confidence building, it must be understood within the context of that it is a side agreement. The broader issues, the fundamental issues, are being addressed in the main dialogue and clearly therefore there is nothing about selling out in respect of this specific issue at all.

    Violet: But Professor Ncube does it not concern you though that you now don’t have the backing of the support base in the civic society? Let me just quote some of the responses from leading civil and human rights leaders who spoke about this in the different newspapers or internet sites. The NCA chairperson Dr. Lovemore Madhuku said ‘you have capitulated as the opposition.’ Another human rights lawyer Arnold Tsunga is also quoted saying ‘it is surprising that the two MDCs could enter deals with Zanu PF when they know the deteriorating human rights conditions outside parliament.’

    Fambai Ngirande, the spokesperson of the National Association of NGOs, said there was no citizen participation whatsoever in the formulation of that amendment. Now as I asked you before - does this not concern you that you don’t seem to have the backing from the civil society?

    Welshman Ncube: Well firstly you have to ask yourself what is the proper role of civil society. The proper role in our understanding of civil society is not to be a front for any political party. It is not to be an extension of any political party. They are to be independent, they are to play their advocacy, they are there to criticise and to basically mobilise for those things that they want. And consequently, in my view, if they hold a different opinion on this particular issue they are entitled to voice that opinion even if in our view that opinion happens to be wrong. And that is their proper role. And therefore you should not seek to conflate and subsume civil society as an extension of the MDC or the opposition.

    The opposition is about politics. It is about competing for political office. Civil society is about advocacy, about specific certain issues, which fall within the areas of those civil society organisations. And for me the most important thing is that civil society remains independent and plays that independent role and if they hold the opinions they hold and they have articulated them - that is very good, in fact that is how it should be.

    Violet: But do you not think what they have to say about the process is important and is it fair on the general populace if you don’t consult with stakeholders?

    Welshman Ncube: Firstly it is a downright wrong and a lie to say we have not been in touch and we have not been consulting with the civil society. We have. And if we disagree we disagree. You cannot say because we have disagreed we have not consulted, and we have not discussed.

    Secondly, you ought to realise that civil society, as I have repeatedly been saying, ought to be independent, ought to have its own views and indeed in a proper society, in a proper democracy, they should not always be agreeing with the opposition. They should not always agree with the ruling party or the government of the day and I do not see anything wrong in them holding a different opinion and articulating that opinion. And if those of us who are in the political forefront consider that they have valid opinions - those opinions would be taken into account.

    Violet: But you know, I spoke with the NCA leader, Dr Madhuku and he said that he only saw this document after it was secretly passed to him by a parliamentarian and it’s interesting that you are saying that you did consult with the civic society. Now he says this shows that the MDC cannot be trusted. These seems like harsh words from the civic leader. What can you say about this?

    Welshman Ncube: Violet you’re flogging a dead horse, consultation does not mean giving documents. It means talking and raising the issues that are at stake and that was done. I do not wish to be involved in any slanging match with anybody else. The fact that we are in disagreement is acknowledged and is respected. Passing documents to people is not consultations. Consultation is discussing the issues as they arise.

    Violet: You were part of the civil society as the National Constitution Assembly in 2000, where you actually agreed to reject anything that is short of a people-driven constitution. So what really has changed, did you not as an opposition agree never to agree to piecemeal amendments?

    Welshman Ncube: First, accept that the NCA position was never meant to be a fundamentalist position. The most important thing was always about finding a new democratic constitution. It was not holding a prisoner hostage to a process (inaudible). A process is always negotiable as long as at the end of the day there has been some participation, at the end of the day there is a new democratic decision.

    Secondly, amendment number 18 is merely, as I have repeatedly said in this interview, a side agreement. There is an understanding that we will have to agree on the modalities of coming with a new comprehensive constitution, which will seek to reconcile our ideal open transparent people centered constitution-making-process.

    With the Zanu PF way you cannot maintain two fundamentally opposed positions forever. You need to sometimes make a compromise and that is what we are talking about. Where can we find a compromise, which will be reassuring to everybody, which will allow us to have some public involvement in the making of new constitution? That is why we are in the dialogue and that is what we’ve been talking about over the last couple of months.

    Violet: But do you understand why your critics would ask about why you are having these side agreements because it’s no secret that Zanu PF has never played by the rules. What makes you think that the ruling party will comply and play by the rules this time?

    Welshman Ncube: Well first, that is a strange question, we have no reason to think they will play by the rules, we have no reason to think that they will not. The whole point of a negotiation if you have a crisis and you have a problem you will negotiate and say 'alright these are the wrong things that we have been doing, we want them to come to an end'. What is the technical agreement we can reach to bring them to an end? And that is what we are doing. You cannot say because in the past you have not respected agreements or you have done wrong things, we can no longer find it useful to negotiate and agree on new rules. It is an exercise in futility.

    Imagine, for instance in 1979 in the negotiations, the Patriotic Front says; ‘Ian Smith has no record of observing agreements he has a record of violence and therefore we can’t talk to him because we don’t believe any agreement will be implemented.’ Imagine in South Africa in 1994, them saying that the apartheid regime had a history of violence, a history of breaching agreements therefore we can’t talk to them to have a new agreement. That is plain nonsense. What you need to do is to put that issue to the test. You negotiate, have an agreement, have mechanism of insuring its enforcement and put it to the test.

    Violet: But truthfully speaking, what is the MDC getting out of this because the violence is continuing, arbitrary arrests are continuing and some even say that the MDC has unwittingly given Mugabe’s electoral process legitimacy which will ensure that he will go to elections in a much stronger position. Did Zanu PF really need your endorsement? It is in the majority after all and could have passed this amendment without your approval. So why did you bother?

    Welshman Ncube: That is plainly wrong, it is plainly wrong and also dishonest! The amendment, which was passed was not the same Amendment which Zanu PF wanted to enact! I will not repeat what I said -- all the improvements, which are on Amendment no.18 in terms of composition of the House of Assembly, in terms of synchronisation of elections. So if we had let Zanu PF do what it wanted it would have passed the original Amendment no.18, which would have contained fundamentally wrong things that we did not want to be in place. That is the point that ought to be underlined and underlined clearly, that Amendment no.18 as passed is a different creature, it is a different animal from the original published Amendment no.18.

    And secondly, we have said painstakingly Amendment no.18 is not the end. It is not the beginning and the end. It is merely a confidence building measure and as I have painstakingly tried to say, we have firmly on the agenda, the issue of a new constitution before the election.

    Violet: But I am sorry Professor Ncube to keep going back to this same issue, but for years the opposition has questioned Mugabe’s legitimacy, and for years you have been saying Zimbabweans have no confidence in Zanu PF. And you even branded yourselves as a government in waiting and now you seem to have made a U-turn in the name of ‘confidence building measures.’ Your critics ask; ‘whose confidence are you trying to bring out now?’

    Welshman Ncube: Well, firstly does that imply if the Mugabe regime is illegitimate it means that you can’t negotiate with it to create new rules? Unless of course you have arms and you can fight them and drive them and then you have imposed peace terms. And therefore as long as they are there and are a force to reckon with and you want to change the situation you need to be able to dialogue with them. It is as plain as that. Anything else, unless you have a war and you can drive them out of the country, is sustainable.

    Violet: Were you put under pressure by the South Africans to agree with Zanu PF?

    Welshman Ncube: Certainly not. The role of the South Africans is a facilitation role. They simply bring the parties together. If there is a dispute they help the parties find alternative ways of compromising around that disputed issue. So there is no role to pressurise anyone on content, they can put pressure on people to stay in the negotiating table until they agree but they definitely do not pressurise on anyone on what to accept and on what not to accept.

    Violet: You said during your contribution in parliament last week that at the negotiating table you are there as one MDC and that you agreed to endorse this amendment as one MDC. We heard that the two MDC leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Professor Arthur Mutambara Welshman Ncube: Well we are talking about the SADC dialogue and Amendment no.18 and that’s a completely different matter.

    Violet: Amendment no.18 has to do with elections and surely the public deserves to know what is happening in terms of the two warring factions in the MDC?

    Welshman Ncube: I am afraid I have nothing further to add to our National Councils’ resolutions and that is in the public arena and there is nothing new on the issue.

    Violet: But come elections are you going to participate as two MDC’s or one MDC?

    Welshman Ncube: Violet there is absolutely nothing new on that subject! As things stand at the moment there is no agreement to fight elections as one. We have sought that agreement we have placed on public record all the things that we did in order to obtain an agreement. Regrettably no agreement has been accepted by both sides and that is where things stand. And there is nothing else I can add unless there is a movement in one direction or another at the moment there is nothing new.

    Violet: But isn’t it important to unify yourselves as the opposition first before you commit the nation to be committed to Zanu PF? We are not hearing anything about the unity of the two MDC’s and is this not important first to deal with or to tackle?

    Welshman Ncube: Our National Council has pronounced on that, that we put a united front, a coalition against the Mugabe regime and that we were instructed to do everything we could to secure it and regrettably we have not been able to do so. And it doesn’t matter how many times you ask that question, the answer will remain the same.

    Violet Gonda: And finally Professor Ncube, come elections and there is no new constitution, will the MDC still participate in the elections?

    Welshman Ncube: Well, that’s not a decision for me. All I know is that at the end of the SADC dialogue and if it flops and there is no new constitution and nothing happens, the MDC collectively, the National Council will have to make their resolution one way or another and it is not for me at this stage to pre-empt that decision.

    Violet Gonda: Thank you very much Professor Welshman Ncube.

    Audio interview can be heard on SW Radio Africa ’s Hot Seat programme (25 September 07). Comments and feedback can be emailed to

    NB: SW Radio Africa is back on MULTIPLE frequencies. Broadcasts are between 7:00 and 9:00 pm Zimbabwe time on shortwave; in the 25m band 11775kHz, 11810kHz, 12035kHz and in the 60m band 4880kHz. Also via the internet at

    Please credit if you make use of material from this website. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.