Tensions threatened to disrupt Zimbabwe's first consitution-writing
conference. Many people
left the gathering fearing political hostility would lead to violence,
but leaders vowed to press ahead with the meeting.
Several thousand people went to the Harare International Conference
center for the First All Stakeholders Conference for drafting a new
constitution before fresh elections in about two years.
civil servants organizing registration Sunday were unable to accredit
more than 200 delegates of 4,000 invited to attend. Some out-of-town
delegates slept overnight outside the conference center to be sure they
were accredited before the start of proceedings Monday.
But there were not enough enough personnel, stationery or cameras to
cope with the hastily arranged conference. When it became clear
registration was impossible before the start of conference, many
delegates left the line and walked into the hall.
rising in the hall lobby as Movement for Democratic Change supporters
began chanting slogans quickly followed by groups loyal to Zanu PF.
member of the committee organizing the conference, MDC parliament
member Douglas Mwunzoro, shouted to those singing and chanting that no
party political slogans were allowed. He was ignored.
supporters complained the national flag was not on display nor was the
national anthem on the program, and they insisted it be sung.
of veterans of Zimbabwe's 1970s liberation war began singing war songs
and shouting slogans at the top table inside the conference hall and
drowned out MDC speaker of parliament Lovemore Moyo's opening address.
They also hurled empty plastic water bottles, forcing Moyo to leave the
Police eventually stopped the chaos, but many people left saying they feared violence.
A founding MDC member, Trudy Stephenson, said she saw a
well-known war veteran inside the hall organizing the singing and
dancing that frightened many into leaving. She also said that it
appeared some Zanu PF aligned delegates were able to get accreditation
more easily than MDC or civil-rights activists.
Many observers at the conference center say the chaos reflected tensions in the five-month-old unity government.
There was no sign of President Robert Mugabe or MDC leader Prime Minister Morgan Tvsangirai, who were due at the opening.
hope a new charter, replacing a 1979 document adopted before
independence from Britain, will strengthen the role of parliament and
curtail the president's powers, as well as guaranteeing civil liberties
and political and media freedom.