THE troubled constitution-making process took only a stuttering step forward this week after the Second All-Stakeholders’ Conference which brought together a motley mix of legislators, party delegates and role players from various civil society organisations – who were mere window-dressers — met supposedly to review the controversial draft constitution produced by Copac in July.
Report by Herbert Moyo
The conference rode out the threats posed by an eleventh hour Supreme Court challenge seeking to block the process, botched logistics which saw many delegates including MPs stranded for accommodation on the eve of the meeting, incomplete printing of key materials and fears of inter-party violence akin to that which rocked the First All-Stakeholders’ Conference in 2009.
In the absence of meaningful progress made in breaking the impasse over the draft constitution, the conference might well be best remembered for President Robert Mugabe’s caveat warning delegates – in a brazen display on his authoritarian disposition – that principals, not Copac and the people, would have the final say in the constitution-making process.
“The principals are the ones who caused this exercise,” said Mugabe. “I am saying this because sometimes parliament thinks that it is full of sovereignty that it should control the acts of the principals, hazviite (it’s impossible)!”
Mugabe also hurled brickbats at Copac co-chairpersons Douglas Mwonzora and Paul Mangwana, accusing them of becoming big-headed over the constitution-making process, saying “sometimes people fail to know where power is derived from”.
Mugabe’s determined bid to hijack the process proved to be something of a highlight for a conference which lacked the anticipated high drama and fireworks among delegates of such diverse interests.
Zanu PF delegates were particularly monotonous as they read from prepared scripts designed to force through the politburo’s unilateral amendments of the draft.
The conference was uneventful, save for the clash between former Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono advisor Munyaradzi Kereke’s fierce altercation with businessman and Zanu PF delegate Temba Mliswa over personal issues unrelated to the meeting.
Mliswa further dramatised the scene when he grabbed a Copac video camera and took off footage before dashing away after taking exception to being filmed blaming his party for failing to coach its delegates, while chiefs reportedly exchanged harsh words with MDC-T officials over the committee deliberations.
Apart from these incidents, proceedings mostly settled into a droning routine with delegates going into sub-committees to hear views on each thematic chapter of the draft constitution.
These largely turned out to be talk-shops as delegates were stripped of decision-making powers, let alone the mandate to debate contentious issues retarding progress in the exercise.
In the sub-committee on provincial government for instance, the deeply-divisive issue of devolution of power failed to spark heated discussion as expected because delegates simply re-affirmed their parties’ predetermined positions.
This format was calculated to enable principals to come and impose their views as a solution later.
Such was the farce and rigidity of proceedings that the delegates from the MDC formations did not even bother suggest any amendments, but simply endorsed the clauses in the draft despite previously promising to push for changes to what they claimed to be a watered-down form of devolution.
Equally their Zanu PF counterparts only objected to the use of the term devolution, suggesting it be replaced with “decentralisation”.
The three sub-committee co-chairs July Moyo (Zanu PF), Tabitha Khumalo (MDC-T) and Qhubani Moyo (MDC) whipped their supporters into line telling them they would not entertain anybody repeating a contribution once a view had been submitted in favour or against a clause.
The dreary sub-committee deliberations were only occasionally livened up by theatrical MPs looking forward to monetary benefits from allowances which were to be paid out during sessions.
When he was not clowning around, youthful MDC-T MP Thamsanqa Mahlangu (Nkulumane constituency) would be asking when the allowances were coming. He was finally whipped into line by a senior member of his party who warned he was out of order and threatened to eject him.
One MP who requested anonymity said: “Delegates simply came to collect their allowances which are why Ncube’s MDC, which boycotted the opening session, turned up for the sub-committees so that they would not miss out on the stipends.”
The National Constitutional Assembly’s Blessing Vava said it has now become clear the process would be dominated by political parties, particularly Mugabe’s Zanu PF. “One thing we should bear in mind is that from the onset the process is driven by the political parties,” he said.
Despite stories of collusion among principals, Mugabe’s speech was in stark contrast to that of Tsvangirai who described the conference as an important milestone towards a new constitution, and suggested he was placing his faith in or appealing to Sadc – whose reference was peppered all over his speech – to rein in Mugabe should he attempt to derail the process.
But Tsvangirai has up to now failed to solidly respond to Mugabe’s claims afterwards the principals ultimately hold sway in the constitution-making exercise.
However, Tsvangirai publicly said princiapls would only play supervisory, not having a final say role as Mugabe suggested.
In the end, the Second All-Stakeholders’ Conference was neither the great “leap forward” nor a “historic occasion” as widely anticipated by some but a damp squib.