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Tough Road Ahead For Zimbabwe’s New Constitution

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (R) and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai arrive at a rally marking Zimbabwe's 31st independence anniversary celebrations in Harare (File Photo - April 18, 2011)
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (R) and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai arrive at a rally marking Zimbabwe's 31st independence anniversary celebrations in Harare (File Photo - April 18, 2011)

Zimbabwe's main political parties are at odds again, this time over the process of transferring public opinion into 17 clauses of the proposed new constitution. About a million people attended some 5,000 public meetings last year, and President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party says its supporters’ views dominated this outreach program and should therefore determine the content of the new charter.

A last-minute compromise between ZANU-PF and MDC was negotiated last week so that both the quantity and quality of views expressed at the outreach program will be represented in the new constitution.

Crispen Mutungwazi, a supporter of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, the largest political party in Zimbabwe, said the constitution is for all the people of Zimbabwe, not just ZANU-PF, even if more of its supporters contributed to the public outreach program last year.

“As MDC we are a democratic party," said Mutungwazi. "The constitution is supposed to represent the wishes of the people not of a particular party, whether your view is ZANU-PF and whether your view is MDC.”

He said he hoped the new charter would represent the people’s views, from both MDC and ZANU-PF, and the constitutional clauses, such as a bill of rights, would not end up "being hammered out at the negotiating table.”

Paul Mangwana, ZANU-PF’s co-chairperson of the parliamentary committee which has run the constitution-making process, said ZANU-PF prepared carefully for the public outreach program to be sure the party’s views dominated the charter.

“ZANU-PF thoroughly planned for the outreach, we started by crafting a document of their views, and the views they hold dear, this they disseminated to their structures engaged in pre-outreach meetings where people understood the views of the party,” said Mangwana.

The MDC co-chairperson, Douglas Mwonzora, who is also a legislator in the 27-month-old inclusive government, says the quality of the public’s input at the outreach program was more important than the numbers of those who attended. He said many from ZANU-PF were forced to attend the public meetings, but conceded that the MDC had not mobilized its supporters to attend.

“This exercise was not a quantitative exercise, so the numbers didn’t really matter, it is a qualitative exercise," said Mwonzora. "After seeing that people were being coerced we then said there is no voting at the meetings. We recorded the views that came out, it is impossible to say this is a majority view or a minority view in important questions, so the MDC position was not as dominating as it should have been because they didn’t take it seriously, but there were a few brave people who spoke and their position is coming out.”

The constitution-making process was delayed in February when Mwonzora was arrested and charged with public violence, charges he denies.

Phineas Zimuto, a supporter of the small MDC, the third political party in the inclusive government, says ZANU-PF supporters who attended the outreach program had been instructed to present their party’s views by their leaders, particularly in rural areas.

“The main advantage which ZANU-PF wants to take is that during the outreach programs when we were visiting the rural areas they used to bus people and they also used to tell people what to say as compared with what happened in the urban areas.” said Zimuto.

He said the outreach meetings were not elections on what to put into the new charter.

“So for us having a quantitative approach will not work, because this is not a voting process. What we just want to hear is to take the views of the people, what they said, no matter who said that or the number of people who said the same statement,” added Zimuto.

A ZANU-PF supporter, Newton Matutu, who lives 250 kilometers south of Harare, says more ZANU-PF supporters, particularly in the rural areas, contributed opinions about what the party wants in a new charter, than the MDC. He said if the ZANU-PF views were not included in the new charter, it would be unfair.

“Our party has got so many supporters in the rural areas so their voices were supposed to be heard and not just the people in the urban areas," he said. "We don’t care what MDC is going to say at the end of the day, because it is what the people said that we are really concerned about.”

The multi-party political agreement which brought the inclusive government to power in February 2009 spelled out that a new constitution must be created before the next elections.

The process has been delayed by shortage of funds, political party squabbles, some violence in Harare last year, and complex logistics of arranging thousands of meetings around the country.

Some analysts say at the end of the day, the new charter will emerge from negotiations. Currently, 17 multi-party committees are meeting to thrash out each of the 17 clauses which will make up the new constitution.

Few expect a draft to be ready for a referendum before September this year.

If a majority of people reject the new constitution, Zimbabwe will carry on under its present, much amended charter which came into operation at independence in 1980.