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Drafting of New Constitution to Begin in Zimbabwe

  • Scott Bobb

Scene at stakeholders' conference in July 2009 to prepare for Zimbabwe's constitutional process

Scene at stakeholders' conference in July 2009 to prepare for Zimbabwe's constitutional process

The charter is a major step toward new elections and ending the political crisis that followed controversial balloting in 2008.

The formal process of consulting the Zimbabwean people on a new constitution is to begin next week. But civic groups for weeks have been training activists to educate communities about the new charter and how to propose ideas for it.

Zimbabwe Human Rights Association coordinator Olivia Gumbo

Zimbabwe Human Rights Association coordinator Olivia Gumbo

The coordinator at the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association, Olivia Gumbo, says her group wants a people-driven document.

"We are talking about the right to participate in the governance issues, the right to vote, the right to speak out your view and also the freedom of association," she said.

Minister for Constitutional Affairs Eric Matinenga is to administer the process. He says 70 teams of 25 people each will hold popular consultations in each of the country's 210 voting districts.

"We are in the process of bringing into place a supreme law which we can all be proud of and which is going to govern us in a way which is different to what we have experienced," he said.

The teams will report their findings to 17 commissions specializing in a wide range of issues, such as human rights, elections and the justice system.

These commissions are then to draft the document, which will be submitted to the people in a referendum.

A new constitution is part of a power-sharing agreement between President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF Party and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The accord brought the two former rivals together in a unity government last February. It was meant to end months of confrontation after controversial and sometimes violent elections in 2008.

The new constitution is to lead to fresh elections within two years.

But the process has been delayed by partisan antagonism and a lack of funds.

A stakeholders' conference in July to prepare for the process was disrupted by unruly delegates and was only held after the leaders intervened.

Differences have emerged through the years over various proposed drafts. The country is still using the Lancaster House Agreement adopted prior to independence nearly 30 years ago.

A draft constitution backed by ZANU-PF was defeated in 2000 by MDC supporters and civic groups.

ZANU-PF and the MDC two years ago drafted another document during meetings in Kariba, northern Zimbabwe. The MDC has since distanced itself from the Kariba Draft saying it is flawed.

But ZANU-PF's secretary for administration, Didymus Mutasa, says the Kariba Draft is the only way forward.

"The Kariba Draft is work done by members of the MDC and ZANU," he explained. "And so we regard that as a piece of work that has originated from Zimbabweans of different political persuasions and so we feel that is what we should go on with."

The National Constitutional Assembly civic group objects to all of the drafts. Its director, Lovemore Madhuku, says the process is flawed and that input is needed from all sectors of society.

"We do not expect that a process dominated by selfish politicians who are not moving because they are not agreeing on what they want to get. The chance of that producing a constitution that is fairly reasonable is very low," he said.

He says his group, backed by trade and student unions, will likely campaign against passage of such a document in the referendum. If successful they will then launch a new, grassroots-based process.

Zimbabwe University political science professor Eldred Masunungure says the long-standing political rivalries are a reason for the disputes.

"The outcome of the constitution-making will fundamentally change the political landscape," said Masunungure. "It will mean loss of power for some and gaining power for others. That is why it is such a friction-ridden process."

Activists like Gumbo say the political violence that accompanied the elections two years ago is still fresh in many people's minds and poses another obstacle.

"People are saying why are they coming to us with the constitution issue while we still have some wounds which need bandages. That is why we are also talking about the national healing process," she added.

The power-sharing accord calls for a national healing-and-reconciliation program, but this has stalled because of a lack of funds and, some say, political will.

As a result, some analysts believe the constitutional process will take a long time.

A recent poll indicates many people are afraid that new elections will bring more violence, but most say they still want them held within two years.

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