News / Africa

    After Constitution Vote, Zimbabwe Faces Human Rights Challenges

    Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe talks to the press after casting his vote during the country's referendum in the capital Harare, March, 16, 2013.
    Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe talks to the press after casting his vote during the country's referendum in the capital Harare, March, 16, 2013.
    Anita Powell
    Zimbabwe’s people have approved a new constitution which paves the way for presidential elections.  

    The charter, which contains a bill of rights and imposes term limits for the president and certain security officials, is supposed to give more power to citizens in the southern African nation.

    However, the vote was almost immediately followed by arrests of high-profile opponents of President Robert Mugabe. Critics accuse the government of cracking down on civil society groups, a clear sign, they say, that things are getting worse, not better.  

    Officials who campaigned in favor of the constitution said it is an opportunity for Zimbabweans to finally have their own charter after decades of using a document created by their former colonial ruler.

    Election officials said Tuesday that about 95 percent of voters approved the new charter. Observers said the vote was peaceful and the results credible, though  Mugabe banned Western observers from monitoring the vote.

    “Anybody who has read this constitution will agree with me that the bill of rights in this constitution will measure up to any constitution in the world," says Eric Matinenga, the nation’s minister of constitutional and parliamentary affairs. "So we can be happy as Zimbabweans that we have managed to adopt this draft.”

    But beneath this liberal document lies a fundamental truth: a constitution is only as strong as the government that upholds it.

    On Sunday, police arrested Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's chief legal adviser and three members of his staff. Then they arrested the adviser’s lawyer when she showed up at his home, and charged her with “obstruction of justice.” Police then refused to heed a high court order to release her by midnight Sunday.
     
    Tiseke Kasambala, Africa Advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, views those arrests, and other signs of election-related violence, as a signal the constitution may not change anything.

    “Zimbabweans may have more rights on paper, but the conditions on the ground have not improved at all," Kasambala says. "In fact, the space for civic activism and political activism is narrowing as the country goes towards possible elections later in the year. Attacks on civil society organizations have increased. In fact, since December, we have seen an escalation in police harassment, arrest and rape of officers of civil society organizations.”

    The constitution’s promoters have noted several important changes, including presidential term limits of two five-year terms. But that provision is not retroactive, meaning Mugabe, who is 89, could serve for another decade.  

    The charter also eliminates the prime minister's post held by Tsvangirai, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader who is Mugabe's main political rival. The two men are expected to face off again in a presidential election slated for later this year.
     
    Despite the arrests, a South Africa-based spokesman for the MDC says the constitution has created something priceless: hope.

    "After this constitution, maybe in the next three or four months, we are then going for elections," Kwanele Moyo. "Come the election time, I promise, I can promise, there will be a new government. And this new government is going to respect the democratic values of the society. And that’s going to be the new MDC government.”

    Zimbabweans living in South Africa, like Moyo, often say that in Zimbabwe they were not able to speak out against Mugabe’s government. But in a way, the nation’s voters did just that.

    The official results of the Saturday referendum voting mean that more than half of them stayed home, an absence that may send its own message.

    VOA's Sebastian Mhofu contributed to this report.

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Bob from: Philadelphia
    March 19, 2013 3:39 PM
    Ian Smith's Rhodesia was correct over 30 years ago. One man, one vote, effectively, one time.

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora