Leaders should now embrace constitutionalism

PARLIAMENT on Wednesday passed, with amendments, the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 20) Bill paving way for President Robert Mugabe to assent to it before it is gazetted into law.

Candid Comment with Dingilizwe Ntuli

While a new constitution is desirable, on its own, the document will not change the political culture and how the country is governed to ensure development and progress.

A national constitution is basically a set of fundamental principles, written or unwritten in a consolidated form, or established precedents according to which a state is run. It was interesting to see MPs and senators in a euphoric mood amid celebrations which appeared on the surface to mark the birth of a new country.

Zanu PF national chairperson Simon Khaya Moyo’s reaction was: “This is a historic day for our liberated and sovereign state of Zimbabwe. We are about to seal the authoring of a new supreme law of the land. This Constitutional Bill is a product from the people of this great land … it is home-grown and smells of no foreign ingredients.”

Even after the new draft constitution has been gazetted, not much is likely to change unless our rulers begin to embrace constitutionalism, govern in strict adherence to the constitution and laws of the country and adopt a new political culture in rejection of arbitrary and repressive rule, together with all its excesses and abuses.

Embracing constitutionalism is important for Zimbabwe to move ahead. Having a new constitution without embracing constitutionalism will not help anything.

In its most basic form, constitutionalism is a complex of ideas, attitudes and patterns of behaviour elaborating the principle that the authority of government derives from and is limited by a body of fundamental law — a constitution.

So is Khaya Moyo and his Zanu PF colleagues now prepared not just to adopt a new constitution, but embrace constitutionalism and inherently implied democracy?

It must also be said the new constitution alone will not be a lightning rod to freedom and prosperity in Zimbabwe, as Khaya Moyo and his comrades would like us to believe. The problem in this country has never been about the constitution and laws per se, but the repressive political culture and leaders who violate the constitution and laws with impunity.

Apart from their disregard for the constitution, Zimbabwean leaders have also been applying laws selectively ensuring authoritarianism and attendant problems, including violation of the rule of law.
With that mentality, Zanu PF used its power to manipulate the constitution and laws, while circumventing or ignoring court orders.

If that did not help, judges and lawyers have been targeted in a bid to secure the party’s political agenda and objectives.

As a result, the constitution and its values, such as freedom of expression, speech or assembly, have been reduced to an abstraction.
So, will the new constitution change all this? Will Zanu PF respect the rule of law?

Will the harassment and arrest of political and human rights activists, civil society leaders and journalists end? Will corruption and plunder of public resources stop? Will the new constitution set Zimbabwe on a path to democracy and economic recovery?

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