The Lancaster House Constitution was the best that our country ever had, at least for now. Though the process that brought that document into being lacked that representational spirit and ethos, at least it represented a good start for a newly-independent, democratic and young nation.
No-one could prophesy how future political dynamics and manoeuvres were going to shape, glide and reach maturation. However, the crafters and drafters of the Lancaster House Constitution at least did a commendable job that enabled stability and peace to prevail at least for a few years after Independence.
What should be borne in mind is that political actors of all shades and orientations manipulated and influenced the outcomes of the Lancaster House Constitution. I have heard some commentators arguing that the Lancaster House document was shaped and heavily influenced by Western powers rather than by the Zimbabwean people. On balance, however, the Lancaster House Constitution was a political document to transition the new country from war to peace via elections and reconstruction.
Some excesses and human rights violations however occurred and the constitution had no inbuilt mechanisms to curtail or prevent these, or ensure accountability for a series of sad chapters and derelictions in our country. The Lancaster House Constitution protected war criminals and people responsible for the unjustified massacre of citizens during the liberation struggle. The massacre of innocent civilians and the bombing of villages, heavily populated areas and camps as well as poisoning of water sources was unjustified and the constitution should have dealt with these.
It is indisputable that the Lancaster House Constitution was a compromise between the then Rhodesian Front and the former liberation movements. It was more a sanitised political document than a constitution representing the aspirations, wishes and expectations of the broader Zimbabwean people including the peasants and the disenfranchised. After a long, bloody and terrible war, who cared?
Zimbabweans then gradually started thinking of a people-owned constitution. The Constutution Commission came up with a document in 2000 which, though not perfect, was a massive improvement from the Lancaster House treatise. The National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) produced an equally substantive document but the NCA’s treatise lacked grassroots input, particularly contribution from rural communities.
True, the NCA would argue that the political ground was very uneven, dangerous and that broader community-based consultation was not possible but the fundamental issue remains that the NCA draft, though excellent, was perceived largely as a solo effort. There was deep sentiment that it was a document thought out and written by Professor Lovemore Madhuku in the confines of his NCA headquarters.
On reflection, I think the NCA draft constitution contained very critical ingredient that the government could have borrowed, shared with the populace and mainstreamed into their draft constitution which was roundly rejected. I have met many political analysts who vehemently expounded the view that Zimbabweans did not reject the draft constitution; they did not reject the process but it was a rejection of Zanu PF and what it stood for. In the district I was working then, you would ask people why they were voting “NO” and which sections of the draft were unacceptable and paradoxically, many had not even read the draft constitution. I voted “NO” and then read the draft constitution later. I regretted my decision!
This background serves to inform the current mayhem in the Zimbabwe constitution-making process. There are a number of good global constitution-making practices and standards that have been followed in terms of conceptualisation, process and outcomes but unfortunately there are a plethora of other thorny issues that remain unresolved.
The consultation process was highly politicised yet Zimbabweans aired their views candidly and fearlessly. A national constitution is not a political and partisan document and thus all political and non-political actors in Zimbabwe were expected to unite around this noble cause. This did not happen as politicians from the major political parties selfishly and parochially promoted their partisan position at the expense of national virtues, ethos, rationality and reason.
The constitution is not about regime change. The constitution-making phase was not supposed to be a stone-throwing, political space expansion exercise, or sovereignty-induced visitations to the rural areas. The forums were supposed to be focus group reflections, listening tours and detailed discussions of fundamental, all and cross-generational ethos, virtues, values and thinking.
The consultations were supposed to dialogical, discursive, give-and-take clinics and memorable encounters in the life and history of a republic in general and all stakeholders in particular. Sadly, this was not the case. A process that could have been harnessed to promote national unity and reconciliation ended up being hijacked by political heavyweights that stubbornly postured and arrogantly promoted their partisan agendas.
The least that Zimbabweans expect is a document that appropriately and accurately captures, collates and synthesises the variegated views of the people from all walks of life, however strange the views are. A document that reflects maturity and values that cut cross and inform all generations. A document that is not authored to reflect the whims of the MDCs, Zanu PF and any political or non-political formation, but one that religiously captures the veins and arteries of the country. What Zimbabweans would expect is a document authored by frugal, considerate, time conscious, responsible and apolitical figures.
Has this been the case? NO. The financial cost of the constitution-making process is reflective of a country that cares less for its people and the socio-economic realities the country is going through. If the draft constitution is taken back to the true crafters and originators (the Zimbabwean people who provided the input and who will eventually own the finalised document) then for once I prophesy a NO verdict prevailing.
There is still room to salvage this embarrassing scenario. The coalition principals should for once courageously stand up and relieve the drafters of their duties and responsibilities. Second, the principals should publicly admit that the constitution-making process’ outcome has not been satisfactory despite the massive investment committed by the fragile inclusive government.
The third option is to go for the stream. We now have several drafts and pieces lying all over the landscape including the NCA draft. Why not immediately hire apolitical, professional, non-partisan, reputable drafters and use the document that would come out of this process for the referendum. A nice name like Constitution Synthesisers could do the trick. And Zimbabwe is rich in talent, intelligence and intellectual firepower.
Last, this very fundamental and sacrosanct process has been messed up by the key political pythons that are supposedly expected to serve the wishes and interests of the republic. I feel sorry for the drafters as well — being pulled from all sides and all over is not comfortable. But most critically I empathise with the millions of Zimbabweans whose voices are once again going to be taken for granted.