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Zimbabwe’s New Constitution Two-Plus Years Behind Schedule

President Robert Mugabe, center, shares a light moment with Morgan Tsvangirai, left, Zimbabwe's prime minister and his deputy, Arthur Mutambara, in Harare, December 23, 2009. (file photo)
President Robert Mugabe, center, shares a light moment with Morgan Tsvangirai, left, Zimbabwe's prime minister and his deputy, Arthur Mutambara, in Harare, December 23, 2009. (file photo)

This is Part Five of a seven-part series on African constitutions

Continue to Parts: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7

Zimbabwe’s new constitution is almost two years behind schedule. The government is not sure when the southern African nation will have a new charter. Even what will be in the constitution is everyone’s guess.

Power-sharing government

When President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai formed a very uneasy power-sharing government in 2009, the two set July 2010 as the deadline when Zimbabwe would have a new constitution. Then the date changed to November 2010. Since then, it has changed several more times.

Besides disagreements between Mugabe and Tsvangirai on what to include in the new constitution, inter-party clashes and lack of funds have contributed to the delays.

But Zimbabwe’s Parliamentary and Constitutional Affairs Minister Eric Matinenga is now hopeful the worst is over. In an interview with VOA, he gave a fresh prediction for when the referendum on the new constitution would be held:

“Referendum, I say optimistically September. If we can have it earlier it is a bonus. It could be later than September. This constitution making unfortunately can no longer be said time-driven, but activity-driven because all parties have to agree on each activity. It is difficult to give a time factor,” he said.

Given the friction and infighting between President Mugabe’s and Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s parties, some civic organizations have joined forces to pressure the government to stop leading - or failing to lead - in the constitution making process.

Government-led constitution

Edi Sithole is an official of the National Constitutional Assembly, which has long campaigned against a government-led constitution referendum.

“The process is quite shameful; it is very unacceptable for them to do that. We are going to be campaigning vigorously against that. We wanted the people, the real people on the ground to run the show,” Sithole explained.

The National Constitutional Assembly believes the new constitution will not reflect the wishes of Zimbabweans, but of the politicians.

Not so, says Douglas Mwonzora, who is heading a government-appointed committee drafting the new constitution. He notes that local communities have been consulted as part of the process for the last several years. “This process is a unique process even by world standards, he stated. "There is nothing more people-driven than that.”

Critics say this consultative process has been fraught with problems, notably intimidation by political activists with President Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party.

Constitutional Affairs Minister Matinenga says criticism and disagreement are inevitable, since politics is by nature the process of debating and reconciling differing viewpoints.

"It all depends where you are coming from. But if you are able to reflect what people have said and capture it in the document, then that’s what it should. Whether it will be overtaken by purely party positions is another issue," Matinenga said. "But the point I have always said is that one can always explain these with the context of what people have said.”

Minority rights versus presidential limits

Some of the issues that remain contentious are the fate of minority rights in the new constitution and having presidential limits.

For many Zimbabweans, they want another chance to shape their country after the rejection of a draft constitution in 2000. In general, they say they want the new charter to guarantee more freedoms and limit political power - particularly of the president.

Chenai Murehwa, a vendor in Harare, says she told the government-appointed committee what to include in a new constitution. “I feel that the powers of the president should be reduced to suit the wishes of the people and not himself and his government. For example, the police must be independent. He must not control them. They must work on their own as an institution,” she said.

Whether Chenai Murehwa’s wishes will be in the new constitution, whenever it comes, remains to be seen. A new charter is required before the next elections can be held. That deadline is no later than June 2013.