PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has come under fire for rejecting growing calls for full constitutional reform, claming that the current British-made Lancaster House constitution was “home-grown and sacrosanct”.
Analysts said this week that Mugabe’s remarks last Friday to church leaders represented a crude attempt to falsify history and trade in deception for short-term political gain. They observed that it was alarming for someone who postures as a revolutionary to claim that a conservative “cease-fire” document like the Lancaster House constitution was home-made and sacred.
Political analyst Dr Ibbo Mandaza, a backroom delegate to the Lancaster House conference from September to December 1979 in Britain, said the current constitution was a “compromise” document in which competing interests had to be balanced by the negotiators. He said the history of the Lancaster House conference was well-documented.
“It was a compromise document because the Patriotic Front was forced by circumstances to accept entrenched clauses in it that otherwise they did not want, for example the clauses that land could not be taken for the first 10 years of Independence and the reserved seats for whites,” Mandaza said.
“The Frontline States pressured nationalist leaders to sign and in the end it became a give-and-take document.”
Talks broke down on December 18, 1979 between the Zimbabwe-Rhodesian government of Bishop Muzorewa, nationalist leaders from the Patriotic Front, and the British government represented by Lord Carrington.
“However, just when the Patriotic Front delegation was packing its bags to return to base on December 19,” Mandaza recalled, “envoys arrived from Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania to tell (Robert) Mugabe (the Zanu leader) and (former Zapu leader Joshua) Nkomo that they had to sign. As a result of this and many other events, on December 22, with much reluctance and trepidation, Mugabe and Nkomo signed.”
Mugabe himself confirmed this at the time.
“Even as I signed the document I was not a happy man at all,” he said. “I felt we had been cheated to some extent and that we had agreed to a deal which would to some extent rob us of the victory that we had hoped to have achieved in the field.”
Nkomo was also unhappy, so were other nationalist leaders. But they too signed because the battlefront stalemate had to be broken. The commander of Zanla, Zanu’s military wing, Josiah Tongogara, was widely quoted at the time as having insisted that: “We just have to have a settlement. We can’t go back empty-handed.”
Professor Jonathan Moyo, former Information minister and analyst, said he was shocked by Mugabe’s remarks.
“It’s scandalous and outrageous for Mugabe to say the Lancaster House constitution was home-grown and sacrosanct. First, it flies in the face of what he said after the signing of the document,” Moyo said.
“Secondly, every ignoramus knows it was a compromise document. Mugabe only changed his mind when he came to power and inherited the repressive apparatus of the Rhodesian colonial state. After gaining control of such brutal instruments as the State of Emergency laws, the Law and Order (Maintenance) Act and others that he used to entrench his rule under the cloak of constitutionalism, he conveniently forgot what he had said earlier.”
Writing in the book, Zimbabwe: The Political Economy of Transition, 1980 to 1986, Mandaza, retracing the road to the Lancaster House Conference, said the final agreement was a setback for the liberation movement.
“The Lancaster House Agreement constituted a substantial setback for the Patriotic Front, at least in terms of the broad objectives that the national liberation movement had set for itself in the course of the armed struggle,” he said.
“First, the white settler colonial state was not to be dismantled. On the contrary…a British governor (Lord Soames) would represent the return of British rule for a brief period to ensure that a suitable and acceptable black government came to power. Secondly, the Patriotic Front was now deprived of the possibility of winning undiluted and total power as would be expected in a decolonisation process. Third, the colonial socio-economic structures would remain intact. The land issue remained unresolved…”
Mugabe’s rejection of constitutional reform, Moyo said, was typical.
“He has always preferred piecemeal amendments rather than a comprehensive reform agenda through a popular process. That’s why he initially opposed the setting up of the constitutional commission in 1999 and only agreed at the eleventh hour after which he was dragged kicking and screaming to appoint the commission,” Moyo said.
“That’s why Mugabe and his party withdrew political support for the process and did not bother to campaign for the draft. In the end the rejection of the draft was a major victory for Mugabe — and not those opposition and civic groups who opposed the draft without understanding the politics at play — and he is only showing it openly now that he won.”
Moyo said if the draft constitution had been adopted, political change would have been secured.
However, Moyo said Mugabe was now celebrating the rejection of the draft constitution — which he thinks was an attempt to legislate him out of office — in a manner that could further damage his already battered credibility.
“To say the current constitution was home-made and sacrosanct is inherently irrational. Many fallen heroes of the struggle must be turning in their graves in shame over such comments,” he said.
“Mugabe risks defiling whatever little remains positive in his controversial legacy and portraying himself as a phoney nationalist or revolutionary now betraying his true colours.”
Addressing church leaders, Mugabe said the current constitution was just as good as a home-grown one because of amendments.
“It was after the war that we got the British to preside over a conference to transfer power (to us). It was not a British constitution; it was not a constitution foisted on us by the British, no. We demanded one man one vote; that’s what we got,” Mugabe said.
“There could never be another constitution so dear, so sacrosanct. True there might be amendments necessary to make, let us say so, but to say this is not home-grown is as if the British imposed this on us.”
Mugabe said amendments had been made to “consolidate national unity”. He said his party was prepared to make more amendments, but would resist another major constitutional reform process after the rejection of the state-sponsored draft constitution of 2000.
The Zimbabwe constitution has been amended 17 times since 1980, many of the changes aimed at enhancing Mugabe’s powers, diminishing the authority of the courts and closing democratic space. More amendments are being mulled. Critics say the plethora of amendments show the constitution is deeply flawed.
The United States constitution — the oldest written constitution in the world — has been amended 27 times since 1787.