By Phillip Pasirayi
THE machinations by Dr Lovemore Madhuku and his mutilation of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) supreme law to allow him to run for a third term in office was contemptuous and a serious indictment of civil society in Zimbabwe which has always
purported to fight for democracy and good governance.
Civil society exists and operates on the basis of transparency and as an example to governments on democracy and the rule of law. In other words, civil society is a bulwark to democracy. This runs contrary to what we have witnessed in the past few weeks at the NCA, an organisation founded on the basis of fighting for a new political order in the country that is based on the rule of law supported by a new democratic constitution.
The mutilation of the NCA constitution by Madhuku to satisfy his own personal agenda and cling to power despite the expiry of his term has thrown the entire civil society into a serious quandary.
This move has eroded civil society’s legitimacy in criticising the government of President Mugabe for amending the country’s constitution a record 17 times to consolidate its grip on power despite having been rejected by the people.
There are a few issues that shed light on the consequences of the latest developments at the NCA or the so-called Bumbiro House.
The most obvious implication of Madhuku’s stranglehold on power is that he or the NCA no longer have any legitimacy to demand that Mugabe relinquishes power on the basis of a long incumbency.
There are a lot of parallels that we can draw between Madhuku and Mugabe regarding their insatiable desire for power and the misplaced thinking that they are the only people who can better fight for whatever cause they are fighting.
The democratic deficit in Africa can largely be explained in terms of long incumbency when leaders refuse to relinquish power on such preposterous arguments that “the people want me to stay”.
This is the same argument that we had before in countries like Malawi where Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda declared himself life-president because he thought the people wanted him to stay in power.
The same goes for Zambia under Dr Kenneth Kaunda and Kenya under Daniel arap Moi. Such a bid has suffered a major setback in Nigeria.
This is the same argument that Mugabe has used to stay in power for 26 years. Many people remember that when the Third Chimurenga started, we were told that the president would not leave office until many challenges, most notably the colonial land imbalances, had been resolved.
We were told that Mugabe would not be retiring from politics until he delivers Zimbabweans to their “promised land”.
Madhuku argues that it’s not yet time to change the leadership at Bumbiro House because the NCA must be led by people who have the capacity to tackle government on a new constitution. This kind of thinking resonates with the thinking in Zanu PF where the office of president is regarded as a “strait-jacket” that no-one else can occupy except Mugabe because of his liberation war credentials.
This point was emphasised by former commander of the Zimbabwe National Army, General Vitalis Zvinavashe, police chief Augustine Chihuri, Commander of the Airforce, Perence Shiri and Commissioner of Prisons, Paradzai Zimondi who addressed a joint press conference just before the 2002 presidential election and announced that the presidency was such that no one without liberation war credentials could occupy.
We can conveniently borrow this warped thinking into the kind of predicament we face in civil society and argue that Madhuku is perhaps the only one within civil society who is endowed with the academic and activist credentials that make him the only suitable candidate for NCA chairmanship. This is absurd!
As argued by University of Zimbabwe political scientist, Eldred Masunungure: “People should learn to observe the principle of limited terms. The longer one stays in power the more he becomes tempted to abuse the power.”
At the core of democratic governance is the idea of a limited term of office which is meant to allow dynamism, leadership renewal and imbue organisations with new strength, new tactics and fresh ideas.
Past leaders of the NCA such as Tawanda Mutasa, Tendai Biti, Morgan Tsvangirai, Brian Kagoro, Thoko Matshe, Bopoto Nyandoro, Grace Kwinjeh, Welshman Ncube and Isaac Maphosa respected the NCA constitution by stepping down after the expiry of their terms of office.
We expected Madhuku to respect and understand the principle of constitutionalism that the NCA is championing rather than resorting to the language that Mugabe uses that “the people want me to stay”.
Organisations by their very nature outlive their founders and leaders and as such, Madhuku should not be determined to lead the NCA as long as the organisation exists.
The argument that a fresh mandate for Madhuku will give him the chance to fight for a new democratic constitution and increase pressure on the government is weak and a mere smokescreen.
Questions can be asked as to why Madhuku thinks that he can only contribute meaningfully to the NCA cause as chairperson and not in any other capacity if he is sincere about fighting for a new democratic constitution?
John Makumbe founded many organisations including the Zimbabwe chapter of Transparency International and Crisis Coalition and he continues to participate in the activities of these organisations, not as chairperson but as an ordinary member.
Only last month, he was arrested whilst on a Crisis Coalition assignment but he is not the chairperson of the organisation or occupying any position on the current board.
The re-election of Madhuku was characterised by mayhem as people queried his eligibility for another term in office. We hear that drunken youths assaulted those that were opposed to Madhuku’s third term bid. Such reports are a sad development within civil society that is expected to provide the best examples of good leadership and transparency and respect for the rule of law.
Civil society must not use thugs to maintain their grip on power as doing so will only be an endorsement of similar tactics by the ruling Zanu PF party that uses youth militia and war veterans to intimidate voters during elections.
Underlying the notion of the rule of law is the idea of predictability of the rules.
Rules must not be changed to suit the interests of one individual or a particular group of people. The rule of law requires fairness, openness, equality and justice to prevail over individual whims. The NCA has failed to stand the test as it has thrown away all that it was formed for. The kind of legacy that Madhuku is leaving within civil society must be resisted by all persons committed to seeing democracy triumph over tyranny in Zimbabwe.
The implications are serious because the NCA is a big conglomeration of several organisations representing churches, labour, youths, students, women and farmers. There must be concerted efforts to stop further damage to the founding principles of the NCA which are a limited term of office, constitutionalism, rule of law, accountability and transparency.
What we are witnessing is a travesty of the very principles for which the NCA was formed because of an individual’s thirst for power.
There are many leaders within the rank and file of the NCA who can lead the organisation and scale new heights. It is less convincing that the leadership of Madhuku is a cut above previous leaders.
The major NCA victory that is the No Vote during the February 2000 constitutional referendum was won by Thoko Matshe and not Madhuku. If ability is judged on the basis of the number of people that the leadership has managed to mobilise on the streets to demand a new, democratic constitution then the previous leadership of the NCA fared well in that regard. Civil society must stand up and defend the very principles on which it is founded that selfish leaders like Madhuku are in the process of rolling back. At the moment the NCA cannot speak on behalf of Zimbabweans for a new constitution because it is led by an undemocratic and illegitimate regime that is hell-bent on clinging on to power.
*Phillip Pasirayi is a Zimbabwean academic activist based in the UK.