Constitution Splits Civic Society Partners

CIVIL society is split on the constitution-making process with key members of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition — the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions — planning to boycott a two-day “peoples constitutional convention” that begins in the capital today.


The convention is facilitated by Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (Nango) who are accused by the NCA and the ZCTU of backing the “parliament-driven” constitution-making process.

Sources in civil society told the Zimbabwe Independent that the convention would be attended mainly by organisations backing the MDC and the current constitution-making process.

The sources said the split was also motivated by donor funds as civil society organisations jostle to outwit each other for money to bankroll activities surrounding the constitution-making process.

“The convention has been organised by MDC fronts in the civil society and donor organisations,” one of the sources said. “The organisations support the current parliament-driven constitution-making process because the MDC is involved.”

According to information at hand, the purpose of the convention is for civil society to define and adopt “fundamental and key principles on both the process and content of the new constitution” and also to decide what course of action to take if the yardsticks are not met.

But the ZCTU and the NCA, according to the sources, were against what they see as a meeting to discuss the “flawed” process.

The NCA and the ZCTU have since last September — when the Global Political Agreement (GPA) was signed by the country’s three main political parties — campaigned against the spearheading of constitutional reforms by parliament.

The GPA states that a parliamentary select committee will lead the process. A 25-member committee has been selected by parliament and last week conducted provincial consultative meetings.

A four-day all-stakeholders conference is expected to start on Thursday under the command of the select committee.

This process is what the NCA and the ZCTU opposed, arguing that it was not people-driven and hence their decision to boycott the civic convention.

The recent controversy over the Kariba draft constitution — the strong Zanu PF statements endorsing it and the MDC-T repudiation of it — has heightened the NCA and the ZCTU’s fears that the parliament-driven process would produce an unsatisfactory political compromise. 

In a letter to Nango on Wednesday, ZCTU secretary-general Wellington Chibebe said the country’s labour organisation would not attend the convention or send delegates because it “does not have faith” in the current constitution-making process.

The letter was copied to the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network, Christian Alliance, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Heads of Christian Denominations, Zimbabwe Aids Network, Bulawayo Agenda, Zimbabwe National Students Union and others, key allies of the ZCTU and the NCA.

“We made it clear to everyone that we are for a genuine people-driven constitution-making process not one driven by and controlled by parliament,” read Chibebe’s letter in the possession of the Independent.

“We further submit that we are now worried to see the supposedly umbrella organisations performing functions or encroaching in areas which are the responsibility of specific organisations.”

In this case, Chibebe contended, the NCA was the most suitable organisation to deal with the issue of the constitution, whether they were in agreement with the process or not.

“We are therefore extremely worried that it would appear your two organisations would want to snatch the baton from the NCA and unfortunately ‘head for the mountains’ instead of heading for the finishing line,” Chibebe said. “Having stated the above we further advise that we will not stop anybody or an individual union to attend the gathering as long as they do not purport to represent the ZCTU. We wish you well in your newly found responsibilities and endeavours.”

Lovemore Madhuku, NCA chairperson, yesterday confirmed that the assembly would not attend the convention.

“We are not attending the convention. We share different strategies,” he said. “We are in the process of consulting like-minded societies with a view to call for a real peoples’ convention for a people-driven constitution.”

Efforts to get a comment from Nango were in vain at the time of going to press as the association’s spokesperson Fambai Ngirande was reportedly out of the capital and not reachable on his mobile phone.

Ngirande, however, was quoted by a local weekly yesterday saying the convention was historic and important as it would “focus on developing a robust, meaningful and well coordinated civic society engagement with the constitution-making process”.

A group of lawyers affiliated to the organisations to attend the convention, Veritas, yesterday said today’s convention would be split into 14 working groups to look into various issues in relation to the constitution, among them the political environment, the national economy, gender and women, freedom of expression and the media, youth and children, transitional justice and national healing, national values, social welfare, land, judiciary, elections and security services.

The groups, Veritas said, would reflect on the themes that various “clusters” of civil society organisations have been working on.  

The working groups would then meet in plenary to arrive at the convention resolutions that will be taken back for ratification by the participating organisations and then presented to the parliamentary select committee.

“It is also hoped that the convention will result in building understanding and strategic cooperation between the broad spectrum of civil society organisations holding different views, ranging from those who are fully committed to engagement in the parliamentary-driven process, to those who are engaging in it with caution and with “bottom line” provisos already worked out, to those who will be working outside it on educating the public on constitutional principles,” said Veritas, which will attend the convention.

BY CONSTANTINE CHIMAKURE