Zimbabwe’s constitution-making process – a WOZA perspective


Background
Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) has consulted with members over the last few weeks on the constitutional reform process initiated by Article 6 of the Global Political Agreement (GPA)1 and recognise the opportunity to play a role in making this process result in a truly democratic Zimbabwe. WOZA has already been involved in joint civic society discussions on these developments and will continue to take part in a coordinated response. We are prepared to participate fully in the process but do so under protest as we feel there are serious shortcomings in the procedures articulated in the GPA.

Ordinary Zimbabweans were not consulted and did not input into the 15 September 2008 Global Political Agreement. It may therefore prove inadequate as a tool of creating a truly people-driven constitution.
Constitutional Amendment 19 went further in providing wide-ranging direction and oversight role to the Parliament of Zimbabwe, which makes the constitutional process subject to political party control.

Whilst we acknowledge that the people voted for Members of Parliament and Senators and recognise that they can be expected to represent the views of the people in their constituency, constitution making should be an inclusive process. It is a given that the whole nation needs to take ownership of their right to determine how they are governed. At the very least, elected representatives need to conduct public meetings to hear the views of the people in their constituencies in open and direct discussion rather than making unilateral decisions on our behalf.

Most importantly however, we feel that there is no real operating climate for full enjoyment by citizens of all their freedoms of expression and assembly. There continues to be flagrant disregard for the rule of law, politically motivated and indiscriminate arrests and detentions and a climate of fear remains. Citizens need a tangible sign that they will be able to meet and debate without harassment before a truly meaningful process can be embarked upon.

We recognise that Zimbabweans have long dreamed of their very own constitution, not a temporary arrangement that the Lancaster House Constitution was supposed to be. Instead of getting a truly people-driven process in 1987, the constitution was changed to become a one-party state. In 2000, they wanted to change it again to give the president even more executive powers. We voted NO because we wanted less concentration on executive powers. We have had too many false starts and still need to complete this reform process and come up with a constitution we can be proud of.

Taking the step
WOZA members believe that it is better to light a single candle than to complain about the darkness. In this spirit and committed to the constitutional reforms outlined in the WOZA People’s Charter and reaffirmed in the Zimbabwe People’s Charter, we will fully participate in order to ensure people are able to input into this most important of documents. We will contribute despite the threat of arrests and detentions. We will meet any attempts to disrespect our views with ‘tough love’.

We will take the step towards a fresh process with commitment and vigour, eager to vote in a referendum for a new constitution. We are impatient to arrive at the day we can vote in a free and fair election conducted in terms of the provision of that new democratic constitution so that we can complete the change and get on with our lives.

Recommendations for a participatory process
Below we have outlined recommendations that we believe will ensure that the process, despite its inauspicious beginnings, could be truly participatory.

  • The letter and spirit of the GPA is packed with rhetoric about gender equality but in deed the power-sharing government has been found lacking. We therefore request meaningful participation by women, and not just any women. Women who are known to engage and consult and represent our issues, in all constitutional processes. This includes members of subcommittees, be they technical; related to drafting; consulting or logistics. In addition the public face of the consultative process must be gender balanced. There should be equal amounts of women chairing and presenting in all meetings.
  • Special sessions for women only should be provided for as women have long been marginalized in Zimbabwean society. They have a unique contribution to make to dignify our nation.
  • The youth are now a stolen generation, devoid of hope and opportunity. We also recommend that special sessions for under-25 year olds be convened. Having their own sessions will boost their confidence that they also have a place in rebuilding the nation.
  • There needs to be a transparent process in the selection of civic society representatives in the subcommittees. We need committee members with clear roles and responsibilities. They should also be people with a clear understanding of constitutional issues rather than being politically loyal. We would be well represented by those who have constituencies. Committee members must be accountable to their constituencies and hold consultative and report back meetings to make the process truly participatory.
  • We want freedom of expression and freedom after expression. To ensure this right is respected, police, both uniformed and non-uniformed, must undergo training on issues of public order so that they do not interfere in our right to meet and debate. Any officer who is unable to be professional and respect civil rights must be dismissed. See GPA Article 12.1(b) – Freedoms of Assembly and Association4 and Article 13.2(a) – State organs and institutions.5
  • Mobilisation needs to be all-inclusive and so broad communication is essential. Public hearings and consultations with public must be advertised well in advance not only on television and in print media but also by alternative media so that all communities are advised and can participate.
    For the process to be as inclusive as possible we would like to see the select committee promoting the need for, and accepting, written submissions from both individuals and organisations, from within Zimbabwe and without. We recommend numerous acceptance points for such submissions, for example email, text messages or suggestion boxes. More weight should be attached to identified submissions rather than anonymous contributions but we these communication tools would nonetheless have been used to stimulated debate.
  • With the manipulation of information being the issue that derailed previous attempts at constitutional reform, we therefore suggest that: the process of compiling opinions obtained during public consultation be transparent and include checks to prevent suppression of “unwanted” views. A summary of views should be published before the drafting of constitution is done.
  • It is said the devil is in the detail. We require that there be civic society representatives within the drafting sub-committee. They will participate in conducting a complementary recording and drafting role.
  • To mobilise Zimbabweans to keep control of the process, a ‘Draft Monitoring and Observer Working Group’ should be formed to provide civilian oversight and real-time reporting on content obtained from meetings. They will also provide early warning that the process or content is being hijacked. This Working Group will post reports on the website for historical proof of contributions. Should the process become a victim of the hidden hand of political expediency, proof will be available to mobilise a NO vote.
  • WOZA wish to receive an invitation to attend the all stakeholders’ conferences. We also require the opportunity to input into planning of objectives, agenda and format. We want to see an acceptable process for the stakeholders’ conferences, by which the agenda is not controlled by the select committee.
  • It is vital that the draft constitution be made available well before the second stakeholder’s conference so that we are able to audit it to see if all views are considered and how it compares to the published summaries.
  • At the second stakeholders conference we will expect a report by the drafting subcommittee explaining why they have chosen specific formulations over others. This is to ensure the committee can be accountable for consideration of all views.
  • It is a given that a draft will be prepared from public input. Parliament must not amend the draft; rather debate it for clarification of certain aspects. Should Parliament wish to alter some formats or contributions, they must be required to come back to the all stakeholders’ conference to present their views for ratification by the stakeholders.
  • The Independent Electoral Commission should be replaced by a genuinely independent commission to restore confidence in voting procedures. We expect the referendum to be conducted by an outside neutral body with independent expertise, as it is important to avoid further poll disputes.
  • Zimbabweans have long been marginalized by not being issued with documentation. The power-sharing government must make a special effort to redress this injustice. In the meanwhile, every citizen under the Amendment 19 criteria should be allowed to vote in the referendum with either their identity document or passport, without drawing up a new voters roll. In addition, Zimbabweans in the Diaspora should be allowed to vote so they feel included in the future of their country.
  • The power-sharing government must take cognisance of our impatience to exercise our full democratic rights under a new constitution. We therefore demand clear timelines as to the next election following the referendum process as both the GPA and Amendment 19 is silent on this timeline. We do not expect any timelines to be shifted by more than two months.

Conclusion
As stated above, WOZA is fully committed to participating in the constitution-making process that has been initiated by the GPA. Nonetheless, we have serious reservations about the procedures as outlined in Article 6 as we do not believe that they are inclusive enough. We also recognise that these procedures are predisposed to excessive control by politicians. Whilst we are prepared to give members of our new government the benefit of the doubt, we are aware that Zimbabweans have been badly let down by politicians in the past. Together with our partners in civic society, we do not intend to sit back and quietly allow them to minimise the participation of the very people in whose name they claim to be writing the constitution.

We have clearly outlined recommendations above that we feel are minimum requirements for WOZA’s participation. We are determined to advocate for the implementation of these recommendations at every given opportunity and reserve the right to review the nature of our participation should the environment become untenable.


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