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Civil Society Launches Constitution Outreach

CIVIL society groups have embarked on road shows nationwide to stimulate debate on the constitution-making process, which will go full swing on January 12 when an outreach programme to capture people’s views begins.

The Crisis Coalition in Zimbabwe (CCZ), the Restoration of Human Rights Zimbabwe (ROHR), and the Students Solidarity Trust (SST) have been at the forefront of constitutional reforms and have since last month been holding meetings in the country encouraging people to participate in the writing of a new supreme law.

Under the global political agreement (GPA) signed by the country’s political protagonists — President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his deputy Arthur Mutambara — a new constitution should be in place by October next year.

A select parliamentary committee was set up in April to spearhead the programme but little progress has been made due to lack of funds and disagreements between Zanu PF and the two MDC formations on the right course to take.

Zanu PF wanted the committee to use the Kariba Draft constitution crafted by the parties during talks that led to the signing of the GPA, while the MDC formations insisted on a people-driven process.

It is against this background that civil society groups have decided to embark on road shows to educate people on the drafting of a new constitution and the meaning of constitutionalism.

Explaining the objectives of the road shows, SST programme officer Sostina Takure said: “The purpose is to educate communities on the role they can play in the writing of their constitution. The aim is to get their voices heard so that we can take it up to the policy makers. The end product is having a grass-roots constitution in which the people can identify with and say ‘we made this constitution’.”

She said her organisation would have shows in Manicaland, Harare and the three Matabeleland provinces.

At one of the road shows organised by SST at Hauna Township, Manicaland, last Saturday villagers and pupils spoke about the need to guarantee education for all in the new constitution. They argued that schools in their communities had acute shortages of resources and dilapidated infrastructure.

“We want to have every child in school,” said councillor Monica Bvunzawabaya. “Every child has the right to a better education and affordable fees. We also want the government to improve resources at our rural schools.”

In a recent survey, Unicef and the Central Statistical Office said 71% of school-going children did not attend classes due to financial constraints. An assessment of primary and secondary education carried out by the National Education Advisory Board showed that most schools did not have textbooks.

CCZ in conjunction with ROHR recently held its own show in Mhondoro-Ngezi, Mashonaland West, where villagers and their councillors were clear on what should and should not be captured in the new constitution.

They said the imposition of the Kariba Draft would be undemocratic and an affront to the people’s mandate to write their own constitution.

The people said the new constitution must outline demarcations on the responsibilities of the three arms of state; the judiciary should strive for independence from government interference and control and should not be a tool of oppression by those in power; and there must be equitable distribution of state resources without discrimination on grounds of political affiliation.

Looting and abuse of state resources, the villagers said, should be stopped while uniformed forces should carry out their duties professionally without discriminating on partisan grounds guided by a code of conduct that respects human dignity.

The people said torture by the police force should never be tolerated and such acts of impunity should be punished severely.

Ward 1 councillor Frank Denhere said Zimbabweans should seize the constitution-making process to express their aspirations and objectives.

“This is an opportune moment to replace the Lancaster House Constitution which did not reflect the aspirations and wishes of the people of Zimbabwe,” Denhere said.

He said a genuine people-driven constitution should protect the people’s rights and freedoms and not oppress them as reflected by the current constitution which has been doctored 19 times to bolster the stranglehold on power by individuals against the people’s expectations.

Farai Machaya from CCZ challenged the youth and women to seize the opportunity to address their plight by making empowering inputs into the constitution to address issues of gender parity and unemployment.

ROHR Zimbabwe programmes manager Clifford Hlatswayo advocated the domestication of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights in the new constitution, the inalienable universality of human rights and the formation of independent commissions that are free of political interference to guard the people’s fundamental human rights.

Hlatswayo also encouraged people to demand transparency and accountability from elected public officials.

The road shows were likely to complement the parliamentary select committee’s outreach programme to gather the views of the people which begins on January 12.

This followed the injection of funds by the UNDP and treasury, which culminated in Wednesday’s announcement of 17 thematic committee members to spearhead the outreach programme.

The outreach and consultation teams comprised 560 people, MPs and civil society activists, and would be deployed throughout the country to gather views within 65 days.

Douglas Mwonzora, co-chair-person of the parliamentary committee, welcomed the road shows.

“There is nothing wrong with civil society going around educating people on the constitution,” Mwonzora said. “We welcome groups that will be conducting such activities. However, we appeal to them that they should not spread hate language and propaganda.”

Some civil society groups like Centre for Community Development in Zimbabwe, ZimRights and Artistes for Democracy in Zimbabwe Trust claimed that they were barred from holding their road shows in Mashonaland Central by Zanu PF supporters.

Mwonzora said the Kariba Draft would not be foisted on the people by his committee.

His co-chairperson Paul Mangwana (Zanu PF) said the outreach programme would go smoothly.

“There has been considerable delay because we wanted to be assured that the resources were available to conduct the outreach activities. The resources are now available and we are ready to go for outreach,” Mangwana said. “We agreed that the deputy chairperson of the (outreach) team should come from the civil society and have a representative of 30% parliamentarians and 70% from civil society (in every thematic committee). We also made sure that there is gender balance to ensure that the committees are inclusive.”

Finance minister Tendai Biti allocated US$43 million for the constitution-making process in 2010 National Budget.

The committee claimed that some affiliates of civil society groups against the current process had turned against their mother bodies and were now part of the thematic committees.

Mwonzora claimed: “ZCTU as un umbrella body has not changed its stance that it will not take part. But we have a number of organisations that fall under it that are in the (thematic committee) list like Gapwuz, Commercial Workers of Zimbabwe and Associated Mine Workers Union of Zimbabwe. As for NCA we have individuals like Nobuhle Mathe and Mable Sikhosana who have indicated their interest in taking part.”

However, NCA chairman Lovemore Madhuku said those the committee claimed were its members were not, adding that even if they announced the outreach dates, whatever they produced was going to be a defective constitution.

 

Wongai Zhangazha

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