Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Referendum: A charade?

With only a few days, hours and minutes left to vote for a constitutional referendum, opinion remain split amongst many fellow citizens on whether to vote for, or against the constitutional draft being presented at the referendum on the 16th of March 2013. As we go to the referendum, Zimbabweans seem divided in two camps, with incrementalists on the other hand, and rejectionists on the other side. The so called ‘incrementalists’ believe the COPAC draft constitution is a ‘better’ document, comparatively speaking. They are arguing, it is an improvement from the much amended Lancaster document. Hence, in the view of incrementalists, we should vote ‘Yes’ in the upcoming referendum.

To put it in their words, a yes vote “is an incremental gain in the democratisation process in Zimbabwe”. Incrementalists are of the view that, the Yes vote is a positive step in consolidating a democratic transition in Zimbabwe. However, rejectionists posit that, citizens have been betrayed, duped and deceived under the narrow, parochial and myopic narrative of ‘incremental gain’ backdating many years in the Zimbabwe’s constitutional struggles, since time immemorial. According to the contemporary rejectionist thinking, ‘incremental gain’ is nothing new, in Zimbabwe’s constitutional history, hence it must be rejected with the contempt it deserves. Rejectionists are against both the process and content of the constitution making process juxtaposing content vis-à-vis the principles of constitution making, namely a participatory people driven process.

However, what I have observed and found disturbing, is the fact that, the truth is not being told by both those supporting and those rejecting the draft constitution. There are many distortions and misrepresentations of facts and scenarios. Consequently, the ordinary people remain more confused than enlightened, on whether to vote yes or no in the forthcoming referendum, mainly due to the multiple, yet, conflicting discourses. In actual fact, the production, re-production and circulation of knowledge with regards to the content (constitutional text) seems confusing especially to someone who failed to get a copy of the constitution ,so as to read and analyse for him/her self.

In my own considered view, those for, and against the draft constitution are not being truthful to the nation. These groups specifically and conveniently choose to pick the good and the bad clauses contained in the constitution, respectively. If you listen to the No Vote campaigners, they deliberately give emphasis on the bad clauses in the constitution so as to override the good. In the same wavelength, those in the YES vote campaign, also pick the beautiful and good aspects entailed in the draft thus, leaving out the bad. Indeed the constitutional referendum has been reduced into being a charade. In my view, the yes and no vote campaign is another ‘game theory’ in praxis. The incrementalists have been firing scary shots by warning that ‘if the people of Zimbabwe’ reject the COPAC draft, the nation will revert back to the Lancaster house constitution, thus stagnating, and ultimately regressing backwards.

 COPAC the body responsible for spearheading the constitution making process is reportedly to have distributed over 90 000 copies. However, the draft still remains in short supply. To this end, the citizens remain passive recipients of information from civil society organisations, political parties, state and the media (both electronic and print media). However, the civic education that is being chunned by these institutions remains prone to bias. Firstly, there are those in the NO vote camp, who are arguing, the constitution is a bad document since it restores executive powers. In light of this argument, the rejectionists end up over dramatising the ‘bad’ side of the constitution as if the whole constitution is all about executive powers only.

On the other hand, incrementalists are of the view that a new constitution will guide us, as a new rule book that can be waived so as to guarantee a free and fair election, yet we really know that Zimbabwe is already preparing for elections; as such there remains little time for the harmonisation of the new laws with the old institutional set up. So it is being inconvenient with the truth, to say, the new constitution, if voted yes, will herald free and fair elections. On this point, the incrementalists and the transitologists seem to be misleading the citizens. As if the constitution is all about women, I have in the past weeks come across many fellow women folk who comprise the larger section of the (incrementalists) who argue, we should vote for an overwhelming yes vote in the coming referendum. With all due respect, they  are arguing, the constitution is a progressive document that will guarantee and recognise the rights of Zimbabwean  women in many respects both, legislatively, politically, socially and economically (affirmative action). But, the question that is being asked by rejectionists is why the proposed charter allows arbitrary discrimination on death penalty.

Without going into the specificity, one can superficially notice the framing of a particular selective narrative by both camps (rejectionists and incrementalists). By doing so, they both seek to crop up a dominating narrative in support of their respective positions. In my view, I view the pre-referendum era as lacking in objective analysis on the merits and demerits of the constitutional text contained in the COPAC draft, which is being subjected to a referendum process come Saturday 16th March 2013. Equally so, it is therefore, worth asking Sabelo Gatsheni Ndlovu’s question on whether the generality of Zimbabweans exist, an overarching theme, he throws around in his must read book, entitled ‘Do Zimbabweans Exist?’

Having said the above, Zimbabwe’s constitutional referendum remains a charade taking from the recent pre-referendum campaigns. There still remain a lot of misrepresentations of facts and scenarios by both those for and against the document. Oftentimes I believe, incrementalists forget to tell the nation the truth. Constitution making is a once off-event, thus the lie that some bad clauses will be amended when politicians get in power is somehow misleading. If the people of Zimbabwe choose to vote yes, an amendment will have to go through a referendum. Although not written on rock solid, it will not be easy, to willy-nilly change the ‘bad’ clauses enshrined in the COPAC constitutional draft as posited by ‘other’ transitologists and incrementalists. If given thumbs up on 16 March, (which I hope will be the likely scenario) the COPAC draft will not act as a transitional document, but a document that will be around for many years to come. Voting either for or against the document therefore remains a bold decision that should be well-thought!

In a nation were people are being expected to vote in a constitution which is in scarce supply and which they haven’t read, it remains difficult to get an objective view and analysis from both the ‘incrementalists’ and the ‘rejectionists’.

Incrementalists comprise of both political parties MDC, MDC-T and ZANU PF and COPAC, whilst the rejectionists comprise of civil society organisations such as the NCA and ISO.

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One thought on “Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Referendum: A charade?

  1. Pingback: A flash in the pan? Zimbabwean referendum and the road ahead - IR Blog

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