HomeOpinion & AnalysisCharter must represent the needs of the time

Charter must represent the needs of the time

John Bhasikoro lives in Murehwa. He turned 50 this year. He belongs to what could be defined as “Zimbabwe’s cursed generation”.

Report by Nevanji Madanhire

He was born in the so-called “Swinging Sixties” when the world was changing rapidly culturally.

The 1960s were characterised by the counter culture movement and social revolution. Many people around the globe were calling for the fall and relaxation of social taboos relating to sexism and racism.

The decade was characterised by radical and subversive events and trends. It was the decade of the civil rights movement in North America. The radicalism did not spare Africa; 32 countries gained independence.

The events happening all over the globe did not spare Rhodesia and had a bearing on how the boy John Bhasikoro would live his life, not only in Rhodesia but in independent Zimbabwe.

At the time of his birth the nationalist movement was in its definitive years. Zapu had been formed a year or so earlier.

Zanu was formed when he was one. When he was three years old Ian Smith declared independence from Britain, Rhodesia’s colonial master. When he was four the first bullets of the Second Chimurenga were fired and that war was to continue in different degrees of intensity until it ended when he was 18.

By today’s standards, John Bhasikoro is illiterate. His education was affected immensely by the war.

The area he grew up in was heavily affected by the war. His contribution to the war effort will never be fully quantified and appreciated, but it is what defines his life now. Illiterate and poor, he survives on what he can farm on the small plot allocated him by his father.

His face is weather-bitten and his clothes threadbare; he gets them courtesy of his cousins working in the city.

He has eaten one or two crumbs of independence, but that was during the early years. In a population of 14 million, John Bhasikoro is right in the middle of the bell curve which constitutes perhaps 80% of the population. What does this huge chunk of the population look forward to? The easy way is to give up and wait patiently for their deaths; but that would be too fatalistic.

John Bhasikoro thinks he can at least strike one last blow for the sake of his grandchildren; his own children are caught up in a time warp. The father didn’t have the means to educate them so their lot isn’t any different from his. They are in a vicious cycle. But how about the grandchildren?

John Bhasikoro’s only hope is the new constitution that is being written now! He might not even be aware there is some activity towards the writing of the new constitution but that doesn’t matter. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people may not be aware, as we speak, that there is a process that has the potential to change their lives for ever.

They may been visited by groups of town people who asked them one or two convoluted questions about this and that and called it “a people-driven process”, but they never got to know the import of their questions and their life-changing value simply because the people who came to ask them the questions had their own political agendas.

Some were fighting to preserve their political power while others were out to gain political power. John Bhasikoro and his ilk became only pawns in a game they never knew was being played.

But they are people who know there is game going on and they know the stakes. It is incumbent upon these to ensure that they strike the blow John Bhasikoro yearns to strike for the sake of his grandchildren. It doesn’t matter anymore whether the new constitution was people-driven, or principal-driven or even parliament-driven. But let’s think about John Bhasikoro’s grandchildren.

As the drafting of the constitution staggers towards a conclusion everyone involved is called upon to produce a document that will benefit grandchildren. It’s easy, guidelines and the international best practice is there for all to google! Below is what can be googled and copied:

A good constitution is one that works well. It should have the following features:

1. Well written:
It must be well defined and precise. It should not have ambiguities and obscurities of language, because this may lead to conflicting interpretations.

Such a constitution will depend for its interpretation on  whims of judges. In this respect a carefully-drafted written constitution is more satisfactory than an unwritten one, as a written constitution is the result of careful thought.

An unwritten constitution, on the other hand, is indefinite and unprecise because of the vague character of the convention and the traditions, of which it is generally made.

2. Comprehensiveness:

A constitution should be sufficiently comprehensive, covering the whole field of government. powers of different organs of the government and various functionaries of the state must be clearly demarcated. A constitution that is detailed becomes a plaything in the hands of judiciary.

The US Constitution is an example of a very brief constitution. It is matter of common knowledge that this constitution is what the Supreme Court makes of it.

A good constitution should not omit the main fundamentals and at the same time does not enter into needless details, since a detailed constitution is also liable to give rise to constitutional disputes. Besides, a detailed constitution indicates a sort of distrust in the various organs of the government and hampers its natural growth.

3. Partly rigid and partly flexible:

A constitution should neither be very rigid nor very flexible. A rigid constitution does not possess the qualities of adaptability and adjustability.

With the changing needs of time, a flexible constitution is liable to be perverted. The best constitution is one which combines both elements of rigidity and flexibility. It must provide a method of change so that it may be changed and adopted without a revolution.

4. Provision for a Bill of Rights:
A constitution should provide for a bill of rights for the people. It has become a necessity in the modern democratic age. It should also make adequate provision for the protection of individual liberty by providing for appeal to the law courts.

5. Suitability:

Lastly, a good constitution should represent the needs of the time and should be suitable for social, political and economic needs of the people. “Legal sovereignty should coincide with political sovereignty.”

Everyone can google it too.

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