ISSUES related to power transfer and transitional justice took centre stage at an outreach hearing in Domboshawa this week, where villagers offering views on the planned new constitution were frank and fearless.
Reports of intimidation and rehearsed contributions had marred the first three weeks of the constitution-making outreach programme, as participants at the hearings failed to express themselves fearing a backlash from suspected Zanu PF activists pushing for the wholesale adoption of their party position.
But at Molife Primary School, 40km north of Harare, villagers appeared enthusiastic and keen on accountable leadership and a smooth transfer of power — issues that have plagued Zimbabwe for years.
Though sometimes offering views unrelated to constitution-making, the villagers were still able to say how fed up they were with the current system that entrenches power in a select few and allows the breeding of dictatorship through unlimited presidential terms.
Most participants, however, did not give their names, but still offered what seemed like uncensored opinions.
“Power should be frequently rotated. A president must stay in power for only five years to give other people a chance,” said a participant in Shona who identified himself as Owen Sithole.
Most people at the meeting called for limited two-five-year terms for the president and proposals for any outgoing president to be prosecuted for crimes committed while still in office received widespread support.
“This (planned) new constitution should allow for the outgoing president to be investigated and prosecuted for any crimes that he would have been accused of committing,” said one participant to loud cheers from fellow villagers, most of them middle-aged males.
“I think the one who deputises the president should take over office temporarily in a situation where the sitting president is no longer suitable or able to continue in office. Elections should then be held after three months and I mean free and fair elections,” demanded a dreadlocked woman who attended the hearing held for four hours.
People at this meeting emphasised the need for efficient systems to safeguard transparency in public funds and allocation of natural resources.
Perhaps representing an older generation, one ageing participant said the incumbent president should stay on for three months in a consultancy capacity, “while teaching the incoming president to understand the running of the presidency”.
Forty-seven-year old Angeline Soko concurred, and suggested an even longer term for the outgoing president.
“What if the president is young and he needs more years to complete his programmes?” asked Shoko. “Don’t you think it’s too little a time for a leader to have made progress?”
Asked how many years she would prefer for presidential term-limits: “40 years”, she responded.
“You are not serious,” was the counter-response from a member of the crowd. “Forty years and what will he still be doing? Five years is enough and he should get in through a vote. No-one should just be declared a president or prime minister without the citizens’ support.”
The issue of devolution, whereby provinces run their own economic and judicial affairs with minimum interference from central government, was topical.
The issue first gained currency in the Matabeleland provinces, but appears to have transcended to other areas because of what citizens say is an unfair allocation of resources.
Despite being over 450 km from Marange, villagers appeared acutely aware of how people there were being forcibly moved following the discovery of diamonds in the area.
They said the planned new constitution should protect community members in whose areas precious resources were found.
“If I find gold at my house leave it there. I don’t expect to be shoved out and harassed at my home by some greedy people,” said a participant. “I would want it to benefit me first, then the local people and the whole country. I am not happy with what is happening in Chiadzwa. People should be allowed to benefit from local resources.”
The villagers supported more rights for striking workers and called for the easing of citizenship and voting restrictions.
“I was born here of a Zimbabwean mother and a Malawian father, but I haven’t been able to vote,” said Christopher Zitunge, citing his age as 71. “They say I am an alien, but I am a true Zimbabwean. I want to vote.”
Zimbabwe has embarked on an outreach programme to solicit the views of the people that would culminate in the crafting of new a constitution that would be expected to lead to free and fair elections.
The programme is being held in line with the global political agreement signed by the country’s three main political parties.