BY JAIROS SAUNYAMA
The government’s push to overhaul the constitution only seven years after it was adopted was met with fierce opposition during the countrywide public hearings organised by Parliament.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government wants to introduce 27 amendments in one swoop through Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment No.2, but Zimbabweans who took part in hearings held in Harare, Bulawayo, Masvingo, Marondera, Chinhoyi and Mt Darwin last week spoke strongly against the proposed move.
The ruling Zanu PF party wants the clause on presidential running mates scrapped to give Manangagwa the power to appoint his deputies.
The president will also appoint judges of the High, Supreme and Constitutional courts, doing away with public interviews.
If passed by Parliament, the changes to the constitution will see judges’ retirement age extended from 70 to 75.
Parliament’s powers to exercise oversight over the government’s acquisition of foreign debt would also be curtailed.
Civic organisations such as the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, ZimRights and Veritas have come out strongly to oppose the amendments.
During the hearings held under the cloud of Covid-19, ordinary Zimbabweans urged the government to first align laws to the constitution before changing it.
“We are not ready for any amendments, what we want first is the implementation of the constitution, then other piecemeal things later,” said Saizi Vilela, who took part in the hearing at Marondera’s Mbuya Nehanda Hall.
A woman, who did not identify herself, echoed his sentiments saying giving the president more powers was a threat to democracy.
“We have a new constitution and why are we altering it now? First things first,” she said.
“The other thing is that why are we lobbying to give more powers to the executive while forgetting the citizens and the issue of basic human rights?”
In Masvingo, participants at the parliamentary hearing said amending the constitution was not a priority.
“Where are we rushing to? This constitution only came into force a few years ago,” said a participant.
“Why the rush to patch it before fully implementing it? We used a lot of money for the constitution-making process, yet you want to amend it so soon.
“We need to deal with alignment, not amendment. At this rate, you would have amended the whole constitution in 10 years.”
Levison Chikamhi said he feared that the amendments would be used to stifle democracy in Zimbabwe.
“On judges, if the president appoints them, it means there is no separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary,” Chikamhi said.
“We need competent, transparent and independent judges.
“Parliament should also have its powers. You are now giving all the powers of other arms of the state to the president.
“Parliament should also play its oversight role.”
On provisions giving the president powers to enter into treaties without Parliament’s approval, Lucia Masekesa said Mnangagwa should not be allowed to have an “imperial presidency”.
At a hearing held at Mount Darwin Country Club, a participant who identified himself as Master Master said the proposed amendments threatened to reverse the gains made in 2013 when Zimbabwe adopted the new constitution.
“The president should not be allowed to appoint the prosecutor-general.
“Those interested in the post must be subjected to public interviews,” Master said.
Kenias Chigondo said removing the running mates clause could see unelected vice-presidents rising to the presidency in the event of the incumbent stepping down.
“Vice-presidents should be elected so that in the event that the president steps down, the vice-president, who takes over will be an elected one, it also ensures accountability,” Chigombe said.
Misheck Gondo said amending the constitution was a waste of resources.
“It is entirely wrong to put patches on a new garment, yet some of the provisions in the initial draft are yet to be implemented,” Gondo said.
“We need to respect the constitution.”
Peter Liwanda told another hearing at Chinhoyi’s Cooksey Hall that the proposed amendments were all meant to benefit Mnangagwa.
“Why amending the running-mate clause even before implementing it?” Liwanda queried.
“Are we not trashing what the people said in 2013?”
Trymore Chiutsi said Zimbabweans must oppose the amendments because appointed vice-presidents were only loyal to the person who appoints them.
“I say no to appointments because appointments are our biggest problem in the country,” Chiutsi said.
“The appointed pay allegiance to the appointing authority.”
Dexter Nduna, a member of Parliament’s Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee, said they received diverse views during the hearings with some rejecting the amendments while others supported them.
— Additional reporting by Tatenda Chitagu, Simbarashe Sithole, Nunurai Jena and Precious Chida.