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  • New Constitution-making process - Index of articles

  • A new, democratic, people-centred and people-driven constitution remains key to the Zimbabwe problem
    Mutsa Murenje
    February 12, 2012

    The issue of a new constitution in Zimbabwe has been newsworthy as long as we can remember. Calls for a new constitution from the suffering people of Zimbabwe persist. They are fed up with the now antediluvian Lancaster House Constitution which many believe was simply a power-transfer document. This article then is a contribution on the ongoing demands for a new constitution in Zimbabwe. It is the author-s conviction that a new constitution will deliver to the peace-loving people of Zimbabwe a vibrant leadership wholly committed to reducing suffering, saving lives, improving living conditions and maintaining the inherent and inviolable dignity of the human person. It is a truism that the idea of respect for human dignity and of unselfish help for those who suffer is an inseparable part of man-s heritage. Dictatorship continues to challenge the humanitarianism and hospitality traditionally associated with African civilisation. We can-t afford to remain silent any longer. Hear me for my cause dear reader.

    I never partook in the struggle for independence in Zimbabwe not because I didn-t want to, but largely because I was born three (3) years after Zimbabwe had already become independent. My non-participation in the liberation war is not very important. What is of supreme importance, in my opinion, is the fact that I know fully well what people fought for during the period in question.

    I am reliably informed and this may apply to all of us, that the struggle for independence from colonial rule in Zimbabwe and perhaps Africa at large was invariably cast as a struggle to realise freedom, equality, individual liberties and democracy. From this it can be established beyond any reasonable doubt that independence therefore came as a great symbol of hope to the many Zimbabweans who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice during colonial rule. In other words, independence brought with it an aura of optimism and/or a crisis of high hopes and expectations. In short, people were overly sanguine.

    Perhaps the questions we should grapple with are: Where are we now (almost) 32 years after independence? Are we better-off or worse-off? To what extent can we say the promises of the liberation struggle have been fulfilled? Answering these questions is not simple, clear-cut and unproblematic. Answering is instead intricately complex thereby making it a colossal and gargantuan task. Almost 32 years after independence, Zimbabwe continues to swelter with the heat of oppression, to scorch with the heat of injustice. It isn-t too late though. We still have an opportunity to transform Zimbabwe into an oasis of freedom and justice. This contribution is dedicated to the proposition that Zimbabwe urgently requires a new, democratic, people-centred and people-driven constitution. Obviously, in lieu of the much-talked about elections, whenever they are held.

    The phrase "a new, democratic, people-centred and people-driven constitution . . . " is a clear indication in itself that the existing constitution is old, undemocratic, not people-centred and not people-driven. The current constitution therefore lacks authenticity and a connection with real life and real people.

    From a more analytical perspective, it can be said that it is dissatisfaction with the provisions of the Lancaster House Constitution, particularly Constitutional Amendment Number 7, of 1987, that has led to the struggle for a new democratic constitution in Zimbabwe. But some may ask, why Constitutional Amendment Number 7? The answer is simple. One thing for sure is that the amendment is antithetical to and incompatible with democratic development in the country.

    Constitutional Amendment Number 7 created the position of Executive President and it is quite disquieting to learn that the most serious problem in our constitution is an all-powerful president with all sorts of powers. The president has powers to appoint and dismiss public figures, exercise the prerogative of mercy, dissolve parliament, declare a state of emergency et cetera.

    From the foregoing, it can be noted that our President wields so much power in the land. Why? Our bad constitution gives it to him. So what effect does this have on our lives? The effect is that we have been tyrannised by a government allegedly constituted for our own protection and good. The commandist and murderous political culture acquired by ZANU PF during the liberation struggle has a harmful effect on our politics. We need to take deliberate steps to exorcise this shameful culture from our body politic. Failure to do so will leave us miserable for a long time. We have begun thinking and feeling that we were freer during the settler regime. How disappointing?

    In addition to what has been said above, the current constitution has a very restrictive and emaciated bill of rights. We all know don-t we, that a Trade Union without the right to strike is like a lion without claws and teeth. Noteworthy is the fact that some fundamental rights and freedoms are conspicuous by their absence in the current constitution. For instance: freedom of the press; the right to education; the right to health; to mention just but a few. The government has a panoply of coercive tools such as the military, police, Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), war veterans and youth militia. Draconian pieces of legislation such as the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), have also dealt a smooth trajectory from authoritarianism to democracy a lethal blow since these curtail among others the rights to freedom of association, assembly, movement, media freedom and freedom of expression.

    What then are we supposed to do? Dear Zimbabweans, allow me to draw your attention to the fact that we have an inalienable right to make a constitution for ourselves. Above all else, be reminded that we also have an indispensable right to destroy a government, any government that continues the practice of the colonial regime. We no longer have a leader. I mean a caring and solicitous leader. The heartless dictator does not tolerate unity-in-diversity and he appears to be long on myopia and short on memory. Do we not know that there are other ways of dealing with people who oppose you besides refusing to listen to them and crushing them?

    A new constitution is the key. According to the late Professor Masipula Sithole, "the constitution is the basic or fundamental framework upon which all else, including the economy ensues." Without a sound constitutional framework, all else comes to zilch. A sound constitution is necessary in that it regulates the conduct of politics, which in turn regulates or influences the economy. Furthermore, our diabetic economy largely stems from bad governance. In addition, good governance, democracy and development all emanate from a new, democratic, people-centred and people-driven constitution. So we are not supposed to drag our feet on this matter because doing so will be illogical at best and grossly irresponsible at worst. How long shall we be silent? Have we forgotten that: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter" (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr).

    Popular ownership of and participation in the whole constitutional reform is sine qua non. This is so ostensibly because there is nothing that a people united cannot do, united, our strength becomes faith that moves mountains. I am convinced that "when spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion" (Ethiopian proverb). Furthermore, the realisation of a new democratic dispensation is not very easy without first banishing illiteracy and tackling people-s fears. Illiteracy has dealt democratic development in Zimbabwe a lethal blow. Some of the consequences of illiteracy according to J. Dijkstra are:

    • illiteracy on a global scale (which results from poverty and underdevelopment) forms an obstacle to progress and development;
    • illiteracy excludes large groups of people from full participation in society and thereby confirms the continuation of the status quo;
    • illiteracy keeps people in a situation where they are dependent, lacking autonomy, without rights and living in conditions of insecurity;
    • illiteracy prevents people from being aware of their situation, their rights and their dependence.

    Coming up with a new, democratic, people-centred constitution requires civil disobedience. The only universal remedy that is both morally and practically sound is civil disobedience. As Mahatma Gandhi put it, "Civil disobedience is the assertion of a right which law should give but which it denies." Unjust laws are bound to be broken. The African (Banjul) Charter on Human and People-s Rights Article 20 (2) explicitly states that: Colonised or oppressed peoples shall have the right to free themselves from the bonds of domination by resorting to any means recognised by the international community. Which path do we have to follow as Zimbabweans? The ball is in our hands. We are the authors of our own destiny. The struggle continues unabated!

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