THE preamble to Article 6 of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) reads: “Acknowledging that it is the fundamental right and duty of the Zimbabwean people to make a constitution by themselves and for themselves.”
Report by Elias Mambo
It also states that people should be “aware that the process of making this constitution must be owned and driven by the people and must be inclusive and democratic”.
However, it appears democracy is being dealt a massive blow in the interests of political expediency as the three main political players, Zanu PF, MDC-T and MDC, have ganged up to coerce people to a short notice vote for a draft constitution at a referendum in March despite lack of debate and education on the document.
Copac has rolled out a chaotic awareness campaign countrywide running from February 25 to March 8, which is just a week before the referendum. The campaigns have been hit by apathy, largely as a result of fatigue since the process has been going on for four years; announcement that all GPA parties will campaign for a “Yes” vote; and chaos which has characterised the exercise.
Some of the apathy-hit awareness meetings have been affected by logistical problems such as transport, while in some places confusion was widespread as people could not get information on time.
In Highfield, Harare, a Copac meeting held this week reportedly ended prematurely when Zanu PF activists in party regalia grabbed copies of the draft constitution and ran away with them.
This is in keeping with the turmoil which has characterised the entire constitution-making process, starting with the fracas that marred the First All-Stakeholders’ Conference in July 2009.
There were also disruptions during the outreach programme as Zanu PF and the MDC formations incessantly clashed as they sought to advance parochial partisan interests during the exercise which gobbled up more than US$50 million.
A critical shortage of copies of the draft constitution has been reported after Copac printed 70 000 only for its publicity campaigns nationwide against a population of about 13 million people due to lack of funds.
As a result, people have been advised to go and queue at provincial and district administrators’ offices to read the draft constitution ahead of the referendum.
Copac has also reneged on its promise to translate the draft into the 16 indigenous languages, as well as into Braille for the visually impaired and blind.
Political parties were given 3 500 copies to circulate among their supporters, with a limited number passed on to provinces.
National Constitution Assembly (NCA) chairperson Lovemore Madhuku said due to the lack of preparedness on the part of Copac and Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), the referendum result would not reflect the wishes of the people but a “predetermined outcome in the interest of the political players”.
“Zec is not even ready to run the referendum and elections because they have not started training the 45 000 officials who will man the 9 000 polling stations because we expect to have about five officials per polling station,” Madhuku said. “Designation of polling stations also requires time so that the points are selected well in advance for logistical purposes.”
Madhuku felt the 2000 Constitutional Commission referendum was better organised because President Robert Mugabe proclaimed the date when he received the draft constitution on November 29 1999, and the polls were conducted end of February 2000.
South Africa gave its people two years to familiarise themselves with the draft constitution before holding a referendum.
“For Zimbabwe, we want at least three months so that we can carry out awareness campaigns,” Madhuku, who is challenging the proclamation of the referendum dates in court, said.
Madhuku has dismissed the current awareness campaigns, claiming the summarised version of the draft constitution being used is different from the original draft because it does not include all the important points.
Mugabe has scoffed at the NCA’s High Court application.
“Adequate public consultations, debates and civil education have already taken place,” said Mugabe.
“The one month will give ample opportunity to the people to make up their minds. ”
Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) director Rindai Vava also called for an extension saying Zec should be given more time to organise a credible plebiscite.
“The political decision to hold the referendum undermines the ability of Zec to enhance its capacity to conduct the election or strengthen its credibility with stakeholders and this might be a missed opportunity,” said Vava.
With 9 000 referendum polling stations proposed countrywide, Zec has limited time to take care of logistical issues such as training personnel, transport, ballot papers and indelible ink.
Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director Pedzisai Ruhanya said the fractious coalition government partners are hoodwinking people into believing the country’s constitution-making exercise is a democratic process when it’s not.
“This whole process is a faÇade meant to hoodwink people so that they do not have enough time to interrogate the draft constitution,” he said.