By Earnest Mudzengi
ONE of the items currently permeating through Zimbabwe’s public opinion agenda is the “Third Way” initiative. This idea has been presented within the context of a whole lot of other devel
opments that have simmered through the country’s political landscape.
One such issue that has been smuggled into the third way debate is to do with the February 2000 Constitutional Referendum.
Prominent third way movers, among them Professor Jonathan Moyo and Jethro Mpofu, have written suggesting that the “No vote” campaign in that referendum was misplaced.
I disagree. If anything, the “No vote” was a vote of conscience that laid a solid foundation for a protracted struggle against a systematic tyranny that the Zanu PF regime has worked so hard to establish in Zimbabwe.
That Zimbabwe would be in a better position had the “Yes Vote” prevailed is a claim that has not been or cannot be substantiated at all. Those who suggest that Zanu PF would no longer be powerful had the government-sponsored draft constitution been accepted by the electorate, are either not in the full grasp of the Zanu PF culture, or are simply omitting reality for convenience’s sake.
To bring issues into an enlightening perspective, it is perhaps necessary to revisit 2000 and delve into the merits of the “No Vote’ campaign and victory.
First, it must be noted that the process through which the rejected draft constitution came into being was one in which the fundamental tenet of people power was not respected.
In a democracy, the majority of the people must dominate and determine the process of constitution-making. This is important in that it ensures that the people’s wishes are reflected in the constitution and that it does not give governments much room to tamper with the constitution without raising the people’s concern. This was not the case with the process that resulted in the Constitutional Commission’s proposed constitution, which the people rejected.
The commission itself was appointed on partisan lines by the president. Its time-table was also set by the president who, again, had the final say on what went into its final draft.
In the process, some fundamental issues raised by the people were ignored and the draft ceased to be the people’s draft, becoming the president’s draft.
Were the people wrong in saying “No” to a document whose production process invalidated their importance and centrality?
Then there were issues of content. The draft from the Zanu PF-inspired Constitutional Commission had numerous provisions that were not only contrary to what the people wanted but were also dangerous for democracy and development.
One such provision related to the executive presidency. All Zimbabweans who can clearly see and read, agree to the fact that the greatest monster within the current Zimbabwean constitution is the creation of an all-powerful president with too many powers that render invalid the concept and logic of the need for checks and balances within the arms of the state.
The commission’s draft still provided for such a dangerously powerful president with wide-ranging and unchecked powers around key national issues such as appointment and dismissal of public figures, exercising the prerogative of mercy and dissolving parliament among others.
There was no way in which progressive Zimbabweans would have allowed for this perpetuation of a menacing personality power cult.
To conceal the scars that blemished it, the draft of the Constitutional Commission had in it the provision of a prime minister whose function resembled that of a high school prefect.
While the prime minister was being described as head of cabinet, the anachronism hovering around his/her existence was that his/her cabinet was to be chaired by the same all-powerful president.
In capping the president’s overriding powers, the commission’s draft went on to provide for a rubber-stamp parliament. Yet one of the most legitimate and imminent needs of Zimbabweans is redemption from a constitutional edifice in which parliament, the supposed repository of people power, cannot easily pass a vote of no confidence in a non-performing government.
Within the same treachery of coated autocracy, the commission’s draft also provided for the creation of a senate that was virtually toothless. The provision for the senate was used to portray an impression that the executive president’s powers were to be checked.
However, the senate provided for was to be so weak that it would not effectively police the president. As if this was not enough to give the president precedence over citizens and citizenship, the Bill of Rights that was caged within the commission’s draft was narrow in scope and did not protect certain rights and freedoms that are key to the preservation of human dignity and liberty.
The freedom of the press, the right to education, the right for workers to strike, the right to health and the right to full gender equality are among fundamental rights and freedoms that were not covered in the commission’s proposed Bill of Rights.
As if to point out its real sources of origin, the draft from the Chief Justice (Godfrey) Chidyausiku-chaired commission also did not provide for a genuinely independent electoral commission.
This weakness alone pointed to how the draft emanated from within the same circles of perfected rigging and treachery. Elections would still have been stolen through that window-dressing draft constitution. Democratic processes would have still been manipulated.
What was to be expected with service chiefs declaring that they would be under no obligation to respect, let alone salute anyone from outside the Zanu PF strait-jacket?
What was to be expected with the so-called war veterans continuing to take the law into their own hands?
The draft would offer nothing but more rituals of treachery. It was in this light that the “No vote” campaign was championed.
The victory that translated from this spirited and informed campaign was no fluke. It was a sweet, genuine, and significant victory against a system that, for too long, has been surviving through deception.
A “Yes vote” victory would have been a prelude for greater deception from a Zanu PF oligarchy that has dutifully and successfully elevated chicanery into a fine art. Refusal to acknowledge this reality amounts to negating the essence of the very foundations of a struggle in which the people of Zimbabwe must fearlessly confront Zanu PF in order to guarantee a future for the country.
We desperately need a refreshed struggle platform from which to propel ourselves from the current state of bondage, which for the sake of a few more years in power, Zanu PF has visited upon us. But, the solution cannot come from negating the very foundations of the current struggle against a dictatorship that is rooted in a warped constitutional order.
* Earnest Mudzengi is senior programme officer at the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA).