… Rural folk in the dark over document

A COUNTRY’S constitution is supposed to stand the test of time and be inclusive in its making to serve future generations, but the current constitution-making process in the country has been characterised by elitist and partisan interests — a product of compromise among the three political parties in the inclusive government.

Report by Faith Zaba

With exactly two weeks to go before the country holds a referendum on the new draft constitution on March 16, it has emerged rural folks are clueless about the contents of the document.

The current publicity campaigns have not reached the rural populace, as was done in 1999/2000, to explain what the draft says.

The Zimbabwe Independent this week visited Uzumba and Murehwa in Mashonaland East in a bid to find out whether Copac and Ministry of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs campaigns were reaching the people.

Interviews with people in Murehwa and Uzumba showed they are unaware the draft constitution was complete, while others said they are yet to see the document they are expected to vote for on March 16.

As Copac rolls out its “Yes” campaign with limited reach and copies of the English version of the draft without Shona and Ndebele translations, people in Uzumba and Murehwa are concerned with fast-tracking the process.

No meetings have been held in Murehwa and Uzumba as yet to brief people on the draft constitution, save for a Zanu PF ward 9 meeting scheduled for tomorrow, nor are translations of the draft available. The villagers said all they have been told is to vote “Yes” even without seeing the draft.

Seventy-eight-year-old James Nyakabau of Charinda Village in Murehwa said government should have given them time to read or be sufficiently briefed before the referendum.

He said although he has heard through rumours the draft was now complete, he feels there is no adequate time being given to people to learn about its contents.

“We have heard that the draft is out, but we have not seen it. We don’t even know if we are ever going to see copies of it before the referendum,” he said. “We have just been told that those that voted in the last elections should tick ‘Yes’ and those that didn’t vote should tick ‘No’. We don’t understand what this means.”

Nyakabau went further: “Obviously, I want to know what is in the constitution. I am very interested in what our new constitution says, but unfortunately, we are being taken for granted. They think it is not important for us to know so they have not bothered to explain it to us.”

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai recently defended the short time given people to study the draft before the referendum.

“It doesn’t matter how many months you give people, they are the ones who had input in this constitution,” he said. “If you have not already made a decision, I am sure that even if you are given 10 months, you will never arrive at any decision.”

People in Uzumba and Murehwa, however, disagree. They asked if what they said during the outreach programme is in the draft.

Gladys Matema, a widow from Mhondiwa village in Murehwa said she is interested in making an informed decision to vote “Yes” or “No”.

“I want to know before I vote so I can decide how to vote. I might not understand most aspects of the constitution, but there are certain areas I am interested in like the rights of women and children,” she said.

“We want to see the girl child and women enjoying the same rights as men. We can’t vote for a document that suppresses women — so, definitely I want to know. We don’t want a retrogressive document.”

Faith Zanga, from the same area, said she hoped the meetings being organised by Copac would be informative.

“We need to know — it is our right to know what is in the constitution. I hope the meetings will deal with the important clauses,” she said.

However, 22-year-old Clever Munengani said he was clueless about what a constitution is.

“I only went up to Grade 7, so I know nothing about the constitution. So, I don’t know what I should expect. This is the problem when one is insufficiently educated,” he said.

Copac will be holding two meetings per district, which covers two to three constituencies, to publicise the draft while the Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs ministry will have two meetings per province.

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