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  • New Constitution-making process - Index of articles

  • Zimbabweans brace for constitutional referendum
    Givemore Chipere, Community Radio Harare

    March 14, 2013

    This Saturday Zimbabweans will go for a referendum to determine whether the Draft Constitution produced by the parliament–led COPAC team should be adopted as the country’s governing charter.

    The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), which is mandated to preside over all elections in the country, has already announced that all is set for the referendum. Funding has been secured, 12 million ballot papers have been printed and are to be dispatched to the country’s 10 provinces, polling stations have been identified and all look set for the elections. All the major political parties in the country have been mobilising for the ‘Yes’ vote and SADC observer teams are already in the country.

    Challenges have also come along the way with civil society organisations writing to President Robert Mugabe in protest against ZEC’s decision to bar some civic groups (on grounds that they are under police probe) from observing the elections. There is also the issue of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) which approached the Supreme Court arguing the referendum should be postponed to a later date to allow Zimbabweans to have adequate time to study the draft charter. Although this application was thrown out, it helped to cement concerns raised by many that they the larger part of the population never had access to the draft charter, let alone understanding its contents.

    Amidst all these developments, Talking Harare went around the capital city and neighboring rural areas to ask ordinary people what they think about the processes leading to the referendum and whether they are going to vote for or against the draft constitution.

    Our first port of call was Shamva at Chipangura Business Centre where we spoke to a local villager, Jack Jimu, who is also a small business operator. ‘We are going into the referendum to vote for it because local political and traditional leadership have said we must vote ‘Yes’ and this is what we will do. We also like the document because it limits presidential term limits and this is something positive given where we are coming from,’ said Jimu.

    At Arda Centre in Mrehwa, Miriam Manjoro said people in the community will simply go and vote yes even though they have not seen the document. ‘We did not see the draft copies but we hear the document empowers women and was agreed upon by all political parties which means we will not be victimized for voting ‘Yes’. We also hear that our children will go to primary schools without paying anything and this is very positive,’ said Manjoro who added that she would want to see the peaceful environment currently being experienced to be extended to harmonized elections set for later this year.

    ‘We hear that the new constitution will allow us to say whatever we want about politics and that we won’t be beaten up for saying out our political views so we will vote for it,’ explained Reydon Sikelemu of Rapture Farm near Goromonzi.

    But Stephen Murefu of Chihota, had other views. ‘Whilst it is good that there is a new constitution, I do not think it is going to change anything because we have seen good laws in the country being ignored when it comes to implementation. For example we have seen people being arrested, detained for a long time and then discharged without charge yet the country’s laws prohibit this. What is needed is to have leadership that respects its people first and then everything will follow,’ Murefu added.

    Catherine Murambwa of Mhondoro echoed Murefu’s views, saying a new constitution which is not respected by the leadership will not help bring democracy and development in the country. She added that there is need to incorporate ordinary people’s views in development and political issues. ‘We want the police and leaders to respect the laws of the country and leaders must know that they do not have monopoly over knowledge and ideas. If they appear as if they are superior in all aspects, ordinary people will keep their ideas and views to themselves but may sabotage elite–driven programmes as has been happening here in Mhondoro where the local member of parliament (name withheld) has been shunned by people because he thinks he knows everything,’ said Catherine.

    In Harare, Talking Harare visited Highfield, Mabvuku, Chitungwiza and Dzivarasekwa to hear what residents think about the referendum.

    ‘Most people here will go and vote for the new constitution for the sake of progress, we know that even if this document is not the best, it has some good things like guaranteeing the protection of human rights. However, there are potential problems here because there is a group of suspected Zanu (PF) youths who are going around demanding people’s identity cards details. They claim to have been sent by ZEC (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) but they are also threatening that after the referendum they are going to beat up people who do not support their party,’ said a woman identified as Mai Masaninga of Highfield.

    In Dzivarasekwa, Kembo Mutale said people in the suburb were ready for the referendum and that they support the draft constitution. ‘We want the new constitution because we hear it will make councils operate autonomously as Chombo (Local Government Minister) will no longer have powers to meddle in operations of local authorities. This will certainly help to improve service delivery,’ said an excited Mutale.

    Margaret Mandaza of Mabvuku said she supports the draft charter as it bars security chiefs from being politically partisan. ‘I think you are aware that this area has lost a number of people who were abducted and killed by suspected state security agents simply because these people were anti–Zanu (PF). So, we will vote ‘Yes’ for this constitution,’ said Mandaza.

    However, Maxwell Marembo of Chitungwiza stands to differ. He says the new constitution does not represent ordinary people's needs as they were never given a free opportunity to air their views. 'This constitution did not come from the people, I think you still remember people were forced to attend the meetings and coached by politicians on what to say. Even after that, the so-called principals went on to make unilateral changes to what had come out and so clearly, this is not a people's document,' queried Marembo.

    So, come Saturday we will see whether people will go in their thousands to participate in the referendum, and whether they will vote yes or no. But, from observations and interviews held by Talking Harare, what is clear is that people will vote ‘Yes’, perhaps peacefully and it would be interesting to note whether that peace will be observed during the upcoming harmonized elections.

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