THE opposition Movement for Democratic Change agreed to support Zanu PF’s constitutional amendment after an agreement on a new constitution and cha
nges to repressive legislation, it has emerged.
The MDC took the risky political decision after assurances from South African President Thabo Mbeki — facilitator of talks between Zanu PF and the MDC — two weeks ago that their concerns would be addressed.
Mbeki met with MDC leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara in Pretoria for private briefings on the weekend of September 15/16 before the second reading of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No 18) Bill on September 17.
Sources said Mbeki promised the MDC leaders that he would guarantee the new draft constitution which has largely been agreed between the two parties, although its finer details and implementation are still subject to negotiation.
They said Mbeki spoke to President Mugabe by phone during the same weekend and secured guarantees of co-operation on the next phase of the talks. Tsvangirai and Mutambara had met before seeing Mbeki to coordinate their position. Tsvangirai is said to have admitted political risk was inherent in the step they were about to take. Other MDC leaders also agreed it was a risky but necessary adventure.
The next stage of the talks — where the MDC expects to wring significant concessions compared to the piecemeal compromises it has got so far — will deal with the process of introducing the new constitution and amendment of repressive legislation.
The final draft constitution is said to have emerged from a series of initial drafts which were scrutinised by senior lawyers who include former Law Society president Sternford Moyo, Selby Hwacha, Harrison Nkomo and Nokuthula Moyo. The draft is largely based on the government-sponsored document rejected by voters at a referendum in 2000. It has elements from the National Constitutional Assembly and the 2003/2004 proposals by Zanu PF and MDC negotiators Patrick Chinamasa and Welshman Ncube.
The sources said if the final draft is ultimately adopted by the two negotiating parties by October 30, it would then be taken to the party leaders and structures in November and to parliament in December. After that the draft would be kept ready for introduction after the elections in March. The sources said the coming polls would be held under the current Lancaster House constitution as modified by Amendment No 18 and the new one would come into effect on an agreed date after the elections.
The MDC was also lured into supporting the amendment last week as it saw the prospects of getting repressive legislation amended or repealed.
Ncube told parliament last week that after the passage of Amendment 18, the negotiating teams would move on to tackle the new constitution, the Electoral Act, the Public Order & Security Act, the Access to Information & Protection of Privacy Act, and sanctions.
“They are on the agenda and we will deal with them,” Ncube said. “We hope that we will find each other around all these issues. When we come back to this House we will come back with a package which includes resolution of all these issues. That is our hope.”
The sources said some of the laws which would be reviewed during talks are the Local Government Act to align it with the constitution on holding joint elections and the Traditional Leaders Act on the role of chiefs whom the MDC complain are partisan.
It was on that basis, the sources said, that Mbeki persuaded the MDC to back Zanu PF’s constitutional amendments in parliament last week. It is said Mbeki assured the MDC that if they supported the reforms, Mugabe would in return make significant concessions.
Although the date of the elections is still up for negotiation, Zanu PF is pushing for polls in March. The MDC wants elections postponed to June but lawyers say this would only be possible if a new constitution comes into effect.