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Political Outreach Leaders Discuss New Constitution Ahead of Zimbabwe Vote

People listen to Constitution Outreach Program leaders in the farming district of Chinoyi, Zimbabwe, 24 July 2010
People listen to Constitution Outreach Program leaders in the farming district of Chinoyi, Zimbabwe, 24 July 2010

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Scott Bobb

The people of Zimbabwe are in the process of drafting a new constitution that is aimed at bringing new elections and ending years of political strife. As part of the process, specially trained leaders are consulting with citizens across the country in a process called the Constitution Outreach Program.

Hundreds of people gathered on July 24 in the farming district of Chinoyi, 100 kilometers northwest of Harare, to discuss a new constitution.

A new charter is required by the Global Political Agreement that Zimbabwe's leading political parties signed two years ago following controversial and sometimes violent elections. It is meant to lead to a new vote.

The agreement brought the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change into the government of President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party which had dominated politics since independence 30 years ago.

The process is difficult. The Outreach team leader representing the MDC faction of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Severino Chambati, says some ZANU-PF members are trying to intimidate participants.

"Maybe there was a hidden agenda. I don't know," he said. "But the idea behind it was to disrupt the process of this Outreach program."

Jacob Moyo, the team leader for the MDC faction of Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, says ZANU-PF is telling people what to say in order to promote a constitution that preserves Mr. Mugabe's extensive powers.

"That is oppression of the worst order because they are suppressing other people's minds and forcing them to say what they as a party, or representatives of the party, think people should say," he said.

The ZANU-PF team leader, Zacharia Ziyambi, disagrees. He says the main obstacle is the western sanctions imposed on senior ZANU-PF leaders because of alleged human rights abuses.

"People are in harmony. They understand each other. They agree with each other. They are happy with each other. But what is a bone of contention is the sanctions. When [if] the sanctions are there I foresee no good election. The elections are going to be very bad," he said.

Farmer Alfo Muyesa says the time has come to replace the much-criticized charter drafted prior to Zimbabwe's independence.

"This new constitution is for future generations and it aims to correct the previous Lancaster House Constitution which had many flaws," he said.

Many Zimbabweans fear new elections will bring new violence. But local farmer Ernest Chetse says the people still want change and a charter that guarantees individual rights.

"If the people have incorporated the issues that they want in the constitution, the obvious outcome is it will be their own constitution and the resulting processes will be their processes and I think they will buy in [to it] in terms of outcomes," he said.

Some civic groups oppose the process. They say it is driven by politicians instead of the people. But Zimbabweans attending meetings like this one are showing that they want change and are willing to work for it.

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