Friday, 7 September 2012

Consolidating perspectives on Zimbabwe's constitutional reform processes

Consolidating perspectives on Zimbabwe's constitutional reform processes: Understanding the past and present, for a democratic future.

A presentation to the Youth Forum Inaugural Congress, Friday 7 September 2012, Harare, Zimbabwe.

By Takura Zhangazha.*

Cde Chairman and members of the Youth Forum Board, the general membership of the Forum  and colleagues from civil society here present.

Let me begin by expressing  my gratitude to the  leaders and through them, the members of the Youth Forum for inviting me to your important and landmark 2012 Congress. I have defined it is a 'landmark congress' primarily because, as I have been informed by the organizers that this meeting's agenda includes key discussions around how to democratically strengthen the organization's own constitution. It is this that makes the presentation I have been asked to make perhaps more relevant.   Essentially it points to the fact that in order for us to ably struggle for  democratic transparency in Zimbabwe we must also be accountable in our own internal organizations to our membership as well as our stakeholders. And perhaps it is this that gives the Youth Forum the moral political latitude to intend to tackle the broader and national constitutional reform process that is underway at the moment.

Let me also add to this beginning by stating an historical fact. Zimbabwe (as a country and as a territory) has had at least four major constitutional reform ‘processes’ that have been undertaken in the last 40 years. The first significant one was that which catapulted the late Bishop Abel Muzorewa to brief national stardom and gave him part leadership of the then United African National Council (UANC). This was in 1972 with what was called the Pearce Commission that was mandated to consult Africans on a raft of constitutional amendments to the Rhodesian Constitution.

In the last 15 or so years that I have been a pro-democracy activist, I have had the privilege of meeting some of the comrades who participated in the demonstrations not only against the Pearce Commission but also against the minority settler state. The one thing they always accused me of, in 1999, was that they were more radical in their condemnation of constitutions that were intended to dilute the 'full freedom' aspirations of the people of Zimbabwe. By the time the year of the Internal Settlement (1978) came, these then young comrades had already made up their minds, based on their knowledge and experience of the struggle to either join the liberation war or stay and keep the urban consciousness and yearning for freedom relevant. And this is why, the second major constitutional amendment that established the internal settlement was roundly rejected by the people, who never found or thought the then short lived Zimbabwe-Rhodesia state to be legitimate. 

When these then young comrades, some of whom included our parents, witnessed the launching of the national flag of Zimbabwe on 18 April 1980, they knew that their intentions had been partly met because they had remained principled and steadfast. Partly met because again, the constitutional changes that ushered in Zimbabwe had been a negotiated compromise in order to achieve that all important first step toward the realization of freedom. It was to all intents and purposes a necessary compromise, perhaps overly so, but all the same, we got, through that selfless act of our then liberators, the right to vote, equality for all, and a government of our own choice.

The next two major changes to the constitution were to become the “missing of the revolutionary moment”  by our leaders, then and now. The amendments to the constitution after the Unity Accord of 1987 should have ushered in a much more democratic political dispensation. We were told of the necessity of unity but we were not told of the necessity of unity with democratic and people centered governance. It turned out that instead of the latter, we almost had the establishment of a one party state and still ended up with a singularly powerful Executive Presidency which we retain to this day. The young people of that time, some of whom are now in the inclusive government sowed the mustard seed of what is contemporary civil society by refusing the one party state, establishing the short lived by high impact Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM). Their calling was one of principle over and above that of expediency, a point to which I shall return later in my presentation.

For another ten years since 1989, young people from across classes began to build a specific consciousness that saw the rise of important organisations such as the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), Zimrights, Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU), the National Constitutional Assembly among many others moving from being office organisations to being people oriented movements against repressive odds. I personally joined the struggle via the national students union, together with some comrades who are now in the leadership of the Youth Forum as well as in broader civil society. We knew, by the time the then government decided, under pressure form the National Constitutional Assembly, to embark on the 1999 constitutional reform process  led by the Chidyausiku Constitutional Commission, that we could not betray our democratic values and principles merely for the expedient moment of wanting to appear sophisticated about constitutionalism and democracy.

We had seen the examples of the then Zaire's early 1990’s failed and undemocratic constitutional reform process under Mobutu Sese Seko, and it was imperative that we pursue the democratic path to constitution making. We assessed as young comrades and in tandem with our leaders in the ZCTU and broader civil society that the then state of affairs under Economic Structural Adjustment (ESAP), the unfinished business of fulfilling the aspirations of our national war of liberation had been caused by unaccountable government functioning on the basis of an undemocratic constitution. 

So we joined the campaign for a people driven constitution under the broad banner of the NCA. The government of that time refused to listen to our mantra, 'we the people, shall write the constitution'. It missed an historical moment by not only ignoring the NCA's recommendations, but by ignoring the findings of its own constitutional Commission.   It was this 'no' vote victory of the people in 2000 that ostensibly gave a full indication that the people of our republic were not happy with the manner in which they were being governed and therefore it formed part of the cliffhanger basis upon which the MDC, when it was still a working peoples party, rose spectacularly onto the national stage.

It is most unfortunate that some of these colleagues in the higher offices of the same have started referring to the historic 'no' vote as a mistake. Such a claim is not only mistaken but indicative of a leadership that is now increasingly on the wrong side of the people's history, a leadership that refuses to take the side of the people in their moment of triumphal consciousness via nationally defying for the first time since independence, the autocratic intentions of the then government.

By the time the inclusive government was established, some of these comrades who had been in the leadership of the NCA and some of our allies in civil society began to sing from different hymn sheets about constitutional reform. Their major trump card in doing so was their targeting of the youth to function only on behalf of the way they thought, and only on behalf of political parties and not the country. By the time COPAC arrived on the national stage in the undemocratic fashion that was their first all stakeholders conference, it was no longer enough for the inclusive government to expect loyalty on the basis of democratic values and principles. Given the gravity of the economic crisis, the government sought to use money, promises of employment to support its flawed process. And it has continued to do so today. 

And this is what brings me to the crux of my presentation. It has been a difficult and winding road for the young people of Zimbabwe. Particularly so in the last twelve years where unemployment levels have shot up to over 80%, health service beyond the reach of the many, education become a private enterprise and the social democratic vision of both the liberation struggle and the post-liberation democratic struggles are no longer organic to many of our movements and our civil society organisations.

I do not wish to be-labour the point that most of you are now aware of. This being the argument given by some of our political leaders that the COPAC process, flawed as it is, must be accepted by all Zimbabweans. Indeed some political parties have already began a campaign for a 'yes' vote yet there is no actual official draft constitution to talk about. I know that some colleagues here present share a different view to mine, and I respectfully accept that. I also know that some of you here would have liked me to discuss the content, and possibly have me demonstrate my ‘paralegal’ status or knowledge but, I also respectfully refuse to do so. This is because, I do not intend to be a prisoner of undemocratic processes or a by-stander in historical and political wrongs as I see them occurring. 
And this is key in addressing the way forward for young Zimbabwean comrades vis a vis the constitution. Whatever your political persuasions, avoid being caught up in a conundrum where the country is lost to the shallow politics of expediency and inorganic celebrity culture. As I have said earlier when I gave the example of those young comrades who rejected the 1972 Pearce Commission, they refused to bow down their heads to opportunism and expediency. They held fort and they held firm.

 The painful but necessary struggle for the liberation of Zimbabwe continued and even escalated. The challenge that young people of Zimbabwe face now are many but it increasingly seems that the main one is that of a national political leadership that refuses to allow the people to establish and conclude the social democratic project that is Zimbabwe. We cannot all be paralegals and argue coherently about the constitution, but we can be and are all citizens of the People's Republic of Zimbabwe. And this means, we have a right to directly participate in the making of our country's democratic history. As with those that came before us, history is a burden that we must all bear and all carry. It is a burden that requires democratic belief, democratic principle and democratic purpose. It does not require the ‘high table’ approach that is COPAC, and I as I have stated previously, roundly reject that undemocratic process to the extent that should it be taken to a referendum, I will most certainly vote against the COPAC draft constitution.

And I hope and pray that your inaugural congress will be up to the challenge of remaining committed, democratic and above all, taking over the challenge of making a social democratic future for this, our country, Zimbabwe.
Thank you, and I wish you well in your proceedings.

ENDS// *Takura writes here in his personal capacity(