SHUPAI Muchingami of Mutare doesn’t know what to expect from the much-hyped constitution-making process.
Civic society groups tell him the process is fundamental for the creation of a constitution that should protect the rights of generations to come. MDC politicians say the process is meant to create conditions for free and fair elections after the disputed 2008 polls.
Zanu PF activists, on the other hand, have posted dire warnings that the constitution-making process would provoke grave consequences if the public dare express views contrary to those advanced by the party.
“I have attended no less than 10 meetings convened by different people who all say different things about the constitution in the past two months,” Muchingami says. “It’s all muddled up and for us, the ordinary people, it has just become a political issue,” he says.
Statements last weekend by Paul Mangwana, a co-chairperson of the Constitutional Parliamentary Committee (Copac) which is driving the process, that some issues –– such as gay rights –– are taboo and will not even be discussed has raised questions about the role of the public in deciding the country’s governance charter.
Eighteen days before a parliament-led outreach programme to gather public views starts, political parties, civil society and special interest groups have stepped up campaigns to mobilise public support for their preferred positions.
People who talked to the Zimbabwe Independent this week said politicians and activists should stop speaking on behalf of citizens, and instead allow the process to be truly people-driven, as articulated under Article Six of the Global Political Agreement which gave birth to the process.
“We have become hostage to all sorts of information and we don’t know the actual position anymore, or how and where we are supposed to fit,” said Muchingami, who is concerned that the resultant document will be a political compromise which his four-month old son will fail to identify with decades to come.
Innocent Moko of Westlea said political interests had left him worried, because instead of the people, organisations and parties with entrenched positions appeared determined to push for their own preferred positions.
“I personally don’t trust these politicians. Vane huhori husingaite (They are very corrupt). We want to express our views without fear. We are dealing with something very important,” Moko, a public passenger-vehicle driver said.
Muchaneta Ngandu from Belvedere told the Zimbabwe Independent that ordinary people should be afforded an independent voice.
“I have a lot of burning issues that I want to be included in the constitution and the most important ones have to do with health and education for my children,” she said.
“I am still waiting for the outreach teams to come so that I can air my views. It’s not good for politicians to speak on our behalf. This is our constitution because we are the people,” said Ngandu.
One organisation that has fiercely opposed the ongoing parliament-led process, the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), said the fact that politicians were in charge of the project tainted the credibility of any resultant document.
NCA chairperson Lovemore Madhuku, whose organisation is running a campaign for the rejection of the process said: “A people-driven process is democratic. It is transparent. It is independent of parochial and partisan interests of the political leaders of the day. It is led by an independent commission composed of all stakeholders and headed by an independent-minded Zimbabwean, preferably from the judiciary or clergy.”
“The new constitution coming out of Copac will be a compromise between the Kariba Draft (crafted by Zanu PF and MDC negotiators) and the Harvest House (MDC-T headquarters) Draft,” he said. Zanu PF is campaigning for the Kariba Draft, which largely vests power in an executive headed by the presidency.
Political analyst Eldred Masunungure said Mangwana’s statements, if taken as a reflection of official thinking, indicated a shift in Copac’s position.
“I remember reading something by one of the co-chairs who was saying rightly that the issue (of gay rights) will be decided by the people by consultation. If it is a collective position by Copac then it represents a hardening position. Ideally that issue must be opened to the public even if they reject it overwhelmingly but let the Zimbabweans say it loud and clearly,” said Masunungure, a political science professor at the University of Zimbabwe.
Constitutional Affairs minister Eric Matinenga said the constitution-making process would allow open participation.
“There is nobody who detects what people can say in the constitution-making process. That decision will come about from the people of Zimbabwe,” he said on Wednesday, adding that Mangwana’s statement was unrepresentative.
“If Mangwana makes a declaration, that’s a decision by him only. It’s the people’s right to say what they want in the constitution, not what Matinenga or Mangwana want”.