HomePoliticsNew constitution won’t change political culture

New constitution won’t change political culture

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe last week signed the new constitution before it was gazetted into law, raising hopes of a fresh democratic dispensation following decades of Zanu PF authoritarian rule subsequent to the collapse of the minority colonial regime in 1980.

Report by Elias Mambo

However, despite the new-found optimism about Zimbabwe entering a new era, analysts say there is need for cautious hopefulness and expectation because Mugabe’s 33-year rule showed that Zimbabwe’s problem has not necessarily been the compromise Lancaster House constitution of 1979, but a political culture of repression and resistance to constitutionalism by the country’s rulers.

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

Even after the new constitution has come in, partially so far, not much is likely to change, they say, unless the country’s leaders begin to embrace constitutionalism and govern in strict adherence to the constitution and laws of the country while adopting a new political culture rejecting arbitrary and repressive rule, together with all its excesses and abuses.

Analysts note embracing constitutionalism is important for Zimbabwe to move ahead, away from the current authoritarian politics and inept governance. Having a new constitution without changing the political culture and embracing constitutionalism will not help achieve a new dispensation.

Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara last week at the signing of the constitution said, if Zimbabwe is to progress and hold free and fair elections, there is need to “embrace the spirit of constitutionalism, the need to cultivate the behaviour and tradition of respecting and adhering to the new charter”.

“This is called constitutionalism,” Mutambara said. “This is harder than crafting a constitution, which is ostensibly a piece of paper. Developing a national value system rooted in constitutionalism requires social mobilisation, civic education and leading by example.”

In its most basic form, constitutionalism is a complex set 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.

It is widely accepted the Lancaster House constitution, amended a record 19 times since Independence, had progressive clauses which guaranteed human rights and fundamental freedoms.

However, after 1980 Zimbabwe saw the introduction of draconian laws such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Public Order and Security Act which contravened freedom-oriented and security-related rights.

Public policy and governance manager at the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for Zimbabwe, Jabusile Shumba, said what is needed in Zimbabwe is a radical transformation of the prevailing political culture if the new constitution is to be effective.

“What we need is radical transformation in our political culture and that cannot happen with the current crop of leadership. What has poisoned our politics over the past three decades is not lack of democratic institutions, but the subversion and perversion of the same,” he said.

“The Lancaster House constitution had some very progressive clauses to guarantee respect for human rights and the upholding of property rights. But it was constantly violated as the political class sought to advance its personal interests.”

Parts of the new constitution which immediately took effect last week include Chapter 3 relating to citizenship, Chapter 4 (the declaration of rights), Chapter 5 (election and assumption of office of the president) and Chapter 6 concerning the election of MPs.

Other sections that also took immediate effect were Chapter 7 which deals with elections, Chapter 8 (the jurisdiction and powers of the Constitutional Court), Section 208 (term limits for service chiefs) and Chapter 12 regarding independent commissions such as the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.

Amnesty International said the real test would be whether the new constitution could “usher in a new culture of human rights”.
Although there is agreement the new constitution is more progressive than the Lancaster House one, some of the clauses that include a non-partisan security sector and electoral body were enshrined in the Lancaster constitution, but were trampled upon.

As a result, calls to reform the security sector in accordance with the Global Political Agreement have intensified although they have been steadfastly resisted by Zanu PF, with securocrats publicly throwing their weight behind the party ahead of crucial elections expected later this year.

Thus, in Zimbabwe, the problem has been more a lack of the political will to fully observe the tenets of the constitution than a poor founding law, analysts say, since the rule of law is the bedrock of a constitutional democracy.

Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director Pedzisai Ruhanya said lack of political will to uphold constitutionalism and the constitution has been the main problem.

“There are certain things which do not need the constitution to be realised; these include the rule of law which remains a question of politics not the constitution,” said Ruhanya.

“The big issue is not about the constitution, but the leadership factor which requires a complete overhaul. The absence of critical reforms, especially security sector reforms, will ensure the new constitution is ineffective, especially during the next elections.”

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition director McDonald Lewanika said Zimbabwe’s leadership should adopt a value system rooted in constitutionalism.

“We still have the challenge of constitutionalism to deal with – this speaks to the culture of adhering and abiding by the constitution, accepting that it is supreme,” said Lewanika.

“The new constitution is a major step forward, but there is still a long way to go.”

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