Struggle for a New Constitution in Zimbabwe: Victims, Saviors and Savages Metaphor!

By 1984 Samuel P. Huntington seemed to have Zimbabwe in mind when he observed that, “By reason of their poverty or violence of their politics, African states were unlikely to move in a democratic direction”. Taking from the Zimbabwe constitutional impasse we can all be convinced by Huntington’s projection. At an hour when many transitologists were beginning to think that Zimbabwe was now moving towards a right step in the democratization process. That is when the democratization train was derailed and thrown out of the rails. The stalemate over the constitution making process came as a surprise to many who had long anticipated for a ‘people-driven’ constitution in Zimbabwe. Such a sad development is akin to a situation of postponing democracy. Many mistakenly thought that, the adoption of a new people driven constitution was going to mark an end stage of democratisation: when democracy becomes the only game in town. Poor Us! Little did we know that dreaming about democracy in Zimbabwe is easier whilst achieving it seems a mammoth task. As long as we have a postponed democratic transition several issues need to be addressed.

Having deadlocked over the constitution a transition to democracy remains hazy? Who is going to break the impasse? At what costs are political parties willing to negotiate? Will they negotiate in good faith and will they be sincere in their deliberations? In actual fact do politicians have the mandate to negotiate, edit and write the constitution? If so, why hiring expert drafters Crozier, Chinhengo and Madzonga in the first place? Wasn’t this akin to hoodwinking the people by creating an imaginary democracy? Although, many believed that the COPAC agreed draft was not the best, taking from the MDC metaphor of the ‘good, bad and ugly’. Nonetheless, many believed it was wiser and beneficial to give the draft a chance. Many citizens believed that it was a better draft as compared to the Lancaster House constitution. To this end, many people believed that, “half a loaf is better than nothing”. Thus many citizens and civics whilst acknowledging that the agreed compromise draft constitution was not the best at least they saw it as a workable document. However, in some quarters both from the civil society and from the MDC some believed that this document was good as a transitional document. The assumption being that if adopted the document would bring in democratic reforms that would lead to free and fair elections in the short term.

However, those behind this thinking went further to suggest that after adoption of such a constitution, progressive democratic forces will then sit down and author a new democratic and people driven constitution in the long term. Abednico Bhebhe is reportedly to have echoed these words whilst addressing a rally in Matebeleland. Meaning to say, the agreed COPAC draft was supposed to be viewed as a ‘transitional piece of paper’ that would be later amended if not discarded after paving way for a new democratic, free and fair and credible election. However, this thinking is also very misleading and problematic. It is problematic in the sense that we tend to forget whether it’s MDC, Mavambo, MDC 99 that will be in power. There will always be opposition political parties, either ZANU PF or ZAPU et al. Strictly speaking; political parties and their supporters will always have particular party positions and interests that will never be incorporated in the constitution. To this end, we will never have a constitution making process that is free from political manipulation. Every constitution making process will always respond to the politics of the day. So was the situation in Nepal, Kenya and South Africa.

Hence, what may be viewed as ‘democratic and people driven’ at each particular point in time, may be viewed by some as not. Taking from sectoral groups, such as LGBT groups, commercial white farmers, new farmers, youth, traditional leaders, workers ,peasants, church, civil society,women,the disabled, NGOs and other stakeholders we will always have competing interests. Hence, these actors will always lobby for their particular positions to be included in a constitution. Ultimately, negotiations and compromises are inevitable. So to speak of a constitution that will please everyone seems utopian. At each particular epoch, we will always have competing contestations. Indeed coming up with a perfect document will be difficult if not impossible. Rather, what is easy is coming up with a compromise document.

As we are grappling, trying to construct democracy we should realize that a constitution will never be authored by all of us. There will always be some men and women (elites) who will sit down and decide, discard and sift our views. We the ordinary people will always remain the victims of political scheming and shenanigans. Whilst, the ordinary citizen is a victim of this political process, the politicians through their cunning and deceitful means will make us believe that they are sincere about limiting their powers in the new constitution. They all massage the truth so as to appear as the saviors who are able to offer us a better constitution unlike the Lancaster house constitution. In actual fact the politicians are the savages who are bent on stifling and muzzling any democratic space by entrenching executive powers in the proposed constitution.

However, coming to our failed transition we will all agree with the assertion that ‘democracy is expensive’. In actual fact we should be demanding apologies and convincing explanations from our politicians. Why in the first place did we go for a consultative outreach when they knew they will reject people’s views? What was the logic behind the exercise? Why the waste of millions of dollars? Suddenly the narrative about people driven has become very confusing. In all this unfolding drama the ordinary citizen remains the victim of political scheming. From the 2nd All stakeholders conference, which way now? Are we done with the political bickering and grandstanding? Probably, a more legitimate question to ask is whether Zimbabwe will have a new constitution? If so will the constitution be a ‘people driven’? Only time will tell!!!!


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