Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The Democratic Importance of the 'No' Vote on March 16, 2013

By Takura Zhangazha*

The inclusive government’s draft constitution has now been gazetted and is due to be put to the people of Zimbabwe for their assent or rejection on March 16 this year. The less than four weeks that have been given for it to be distributed and debated by the public are not only  evidently inadequate but can also be seriously viewed as a form of contempt for the peoples views on the same document.  

As such, debates over the content of the draft constitution have been overtaken and come back full circle to being more about the undemocratic nature of the process. Questions over and about the inadequacy of a little over three weeks for the public to debate the draft constitution have become common place and have led to some political leaders in the inclusive government claiming the document as a compromise one that will be amended by the political party that wins the harmonized elections scheduled for later on in the year. The truth of the matter is that this short time frame is a direct result of the undemocratic nature of the constitutional reform  process undertaken by COPAC and as approved by the political party principals. And it is such developments that should make it clear why it is necessary for Zimbabweans to reject the draft constitution primarily on the basis of process with the added dimension of content. 

It is however necessary to explain the full democratic import of voting against the draft constitution. And this must be done in three parts, namely, understanding the historical significance of constitutional reform in Zimbabwe, secondly, bringing political leaders to full democratic account and thirdly understanding the generational context to constitutional reform and democratisation processes in Zimbabwe.

To take an historical perspective to constitutional reform in the first years it would be important to dispel the false assertion by PM Tsvangirai and Professor Welshman Ncube that the watershed ‘no vote’ in the year 2000 was a ‘mistake’.  Such an assertion has been invoked once again where and when they have discussed the current draft constitution. The reality of the matter is that contrary to their assertions, the ‘no vote’ of 2000 was the end result  of both an undemocratic constitutional reform process as well as an increasingly unpopular ruling party, particularly as regards it's performance legitimacy within the context of economic structural adjustment programmes. 

That the two MDCs principals wish to invoke revisionist history to cajole Zimbabweans to support their undemocratic document is not necessarily a problem. But it would be fair to say that their interpretation of the import of the February 2000 'no' vote is an exercise in political dishonesty.  

Historically post independence constitutional reform has generally provided a platform through which Zimbabweans have eagerly participated with the intention of making their country governed better yet only to be treated as subjects through the political dishonesty of government leaders of the day. It would therefore not be remiss to state that the 2000 'no' vote was a declaration of intent by the people of Zimbabwe, notwithstanding the different mainstream political viewpoints, to make their voices heard. This is the same case in 2013, where the people do sense a serious travesty of being asked to vote yes by a political elite that has mistaken their popular support to mean unprincipled acceptance by the masses of their every word and deed.

Where the politicians seek to repeat their ahistorical mistake of largely  ignoring the views of the people in 2000 and acting as though they own the country, the people of Zimbabwe must reassert their right to reject the same said’s proposed draft constitution. This, not in order to wantonly repeat history but to salvage democratic principle and ensure the entrenchment of the understanding that Zimbabwe belongs to all of its citizens, not just the political elite. 

The second element that must be considered in seeking to understand the democratic importance of the ‘no vote’ is that where we can, we should never allow such casual and undemocratic leadership of as important a process of wholesale constitutional reform to be repeated.  

This means that the no vote is primarily about bringing to account on leaders who do not take such important national political processes such as constitutional reform with the democratic seriousness that it deserves. This is particularly so for the political (and in some cases, civil society) leaders of this current undemocratic constitutional reform process who failed their own tests of undertaking it on time, within a reasonable budget or with the maximum possible public accountability.  Against better advice, they forged ahead on a partisan basis over a period of four years while missing the national and historic significance of the process and simplistically banking on the assumed infallibility of their party principals for short term political capital. Such an elitist approach to a national issue/question  must not  be permitted to occur without judgment of the people. And in this instance the 2013 ‘no vote’ will serve to bring leaders to account.

The third and final perspective that adds weight to the democratic importance of the no vote is that of the generational question.  And it is one that must be viewed within the framework of the famous phrase provided by African liberation war hero and thinker, Franz Fanon who once wrote, ‘Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it in relative opacity’.  This oft forgotten phrase is one that in our context must be taken to mean that the 2013 no vote is no longer about the political leaders of  either the liberation war or the second phase of post independence democratization struggles (since 1997) who have been key players in the current undemocratic process.  Instead, the ‘no vote’ is about the future, and not the past. It is a future that directly affects younger Zimbabweans who must embrace a determinate course of making a democratic history that is sensitive to not only social democratic values and people driven processes, but also understands that their time too will one day be up. And furthermore that they too will be judged on the basis of how their actions and principles helped build or destroy a democratic future for Zimbabwe.

 And this begins in 2013 with a reaffirmation of the democratic values that took generations preceding us to seek to better the lives of all Zimbabweans, be it via the rejection of the Pearce Commission or that of the one party state in 1989. This must and should be done through exercising our right to reject what the inclusive government has dishonestly referred to as a people driven constitution on referendum day, March 16, 2013.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)