Saturday, 25 January 2014

The National Constitutional Assembly’s False Departure and Lost Compass.

By Takura Zhangazha*

Every major journey is always initially determined by the nature of the departure. Whether one has a motor vehicle or bicycle determines how one plans to proceed, for example, from Bikita to Mutare. The journey may change in the long run, but the fundamentals of agreeing on a route, mode of transport, number of travelers and final destination must be determined before departure. When challenges are met along the way, some travelers stay the course, others decide to change route or the mode of transportation.  Others might decide to change the end destination of the journey altogether.

It has been the same with the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) since its formation in 1997. Its journey had the intention of arriving at a people driven and democratic constitution in Zimbabwe. A journey yet to end or be arrived at in the aftermath of the highly politicized and undemocratic COPAC constitutional reform process from 2010 to March 2013.  

While the intended destination of the NCA’s journey has remained ostensibly the same, the routes and the participants in the journey have not remained the same, but have expanded beyond the initial alliances of budding civil society organizations, labour and student unions in the later half of the 1990s.This saw the NCA joining forces with the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) to form the now divided Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). 

It has also been a journey that had as landmarks, not  only the initial ‘no vote’ victory in 2000,but also the formation of an inclusive government, with its attendant undemocratic Article 6 constitutional reform process that former fellow colleagues wrongly  felt to be an  ‘arrival’.

The NCA, unlike the former, thought it had not reached its journey’s end. This was confirmed at the Second Peoples Constitutional Convention in 2009 that was held in Chitungwiza . The road to the intended destination had become more complex, and any new routes or strategic stops had unfortunately taken on a much more political tone. This was particularly the case when it came to the political party led dishonest ‘yes vote’ campaign at the March 2013 referendum.

On the basis of democratic principle, the NCA thought it better to stay the path of a people driven constitution, even against the backdrop of literarily being financially resource-less, against the donor driven behemoth that was COPAC.

The NCA 2013 ‘no vote’ campaign vote count was however to demonstrate both a national presence as well as an indication that despite all the politics of the MDCs and Zanu PF, there were and are at least a quarter of a million Zimbabweans who are amenable to a third way in our national politics.  Even if this came through a referendum and not a direct electoral poll. 

Following the holding of the July 2013 elections  which resulted in a two thirds Parliamentary victory for Zanu Pf, it was a special congress of the NCA, in September of the same year, that was to resolve to continue this same said constitutional reform journey by expanding the mandate of the organization into one that was to seek political power.  

The destination of this journey, instead of being just a people driven and democratic constitutional reform process, became one that was to appear like arriving at a metropolis, where  the endgame becomes not just singular but holistic.

The NCA had chosen the harder path and for historical reasons. This path was for it to become  a different political formation, given the fact that it has had the latitude and leeway along its journey to see the mistakes and stops of others.  In fact, politically, the NCA could only get better or at least be better than its new rivals in relation to how it was now to continue the political stage of its journey. 


If anything, the NCA had reached what one could call a historical moment, which required a conscientious and nationally conscious leadership.  This entailed a necessary leadership understanding that the country needs much more conscientious leadership than that being demonstrated either by the ruling party or by its longstanding mainstream opposition. This in two particular respects.


Firstly, by demonstrating beyond any reasonable doubt its commitment to full intra-party democracy as a departure point, and demonstration of difference from what we have had as political parties and political leaders since our national independence. This would have included, establishing all of its formal structures, leadership, policy propositions and ideological premise before embarking on any electoral contests. Unfortunately and as it turns out, the NCA has thought otherwise by contesting in by elections with neither matters having been resolved. Even if it were to be victorious in these or other council or parliamentary by-elections, such a victory would remain Pyrrhic.

Secondly, the NCA’s decision to pursue a path of political expediency, with regards to electoral contest by way of local government by-elections ,may come to mean that this is what its new journey represents-expediency over and above principles and values.  It is a marked departure from the original reasons why the NCA chose its initial 1997 formative journey, its 2000 and its 2013 ‘no vote’ campaigns. 

Being a political party does not mean you suspend principles or values. Neither does it mean you create cult symbols or politics in a fashion akin to Zanu Pf and the MDCs. It is perhaps this particular point that the recalcitrant NCA leadership is refusing to come to terms with. Where the journey’s premise changes, so does the travel plan, especially if you think you have persons and organizations that are trying to prevent you from getting to the final destination.

From a personal perspective, the NCA remains an organization that had history thrust upon it.  It had to ride the specific tide of managing the pragmatics of social democratic principles with those of raw populism.  In doing so, it imbued a lot of Zimbabweans with belief in politics, purpose, values and democratic principle.  Especially where it went against the grain and spoke truth to power (and wannabe power) in the inclusive government by campaigning against the COPAC constitution. 

Where it turned itself into a political party, again it had history thrust upon it. The only unfortunate thing is that it has failed to understand the same said historical significance of where it is placed today.  It was intended to be different and not immediately demonstrate an intention to acquire power for power’s own sake. It was intended to have a different signature to the democratic future of our country. In short, to lead us to a much more serious, less materialistic and less simplistic but democratic politics. In this historical task thrust upon it by time (and probably the ancestors), it unfortunately has failed by way of departure on what would have been a revolutionary phase of its journey and its eventual destination. 

One can only say good night and good luck to the NCA by quoting the late African revolutionary, Amilcar Cabral who in 1969 said, ‘we are all necessary to the struggle but no one is indispensable... Today, I am proud because I am certain that, given the work that we have done together, if I went, left, died or disappeared, there would be others in the party capable of continuing the struggle. If this were not the case we would not have achieved anything yet. A man who has achieved something which he alone can continue, has achieved nothing.’ 

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