Copac security nightmare

HARARE - Organisers of a forthcoming conference to evaluate a new draft constitution are busy mobilising financial resources for the conference, but also preparing for a disaster.

Parliament’s Constitution Select Committee (Copac) has requested beefed-up security and ramped up deployment of police officers to deal with troublemakers.

Speaker of Parliament Lovemore Moyo said Parliament has written to Cabinet requesting that law enforcement agencies and concerned government agencies make elaborate security preparations to ensure the safety and protection of all foreign and local delegates.

Organisers want police officers with full riot gear to be on patrol at the event, whose date will be set this week.

While Moyo, who is also the MDC chairperson, is ebullient when talking about his hopes for the second All-Stakeholders Conference, he rarely speaks of the conference without mentioning security and his concerns about “anarchists” provoking violence.

“There are a number of factors that determine the holding of the second All-Stakeholders’ Conference including the mobilisation of financial resources to finance it, logistical arrangements which have to do with how to get people to the conference as well as issues to do with the numbers of delegates to the conference from each of the political parties in the inclusive government,” he said.

He and other officials have scrutinised reports from the first All-StakeHolders conference in July 2009 that descended into chaos when rival delegates clashed, prompting police to intervene.

“We know there are going to be problems,” he said.

“We know there are going to be confrontations. The delegates will have to be reduced to minimum numbers with the agreement of Copac leaders, for the conference to be manageable as well as effective. The parties should also agree to the numbers of delegates,” he said.

There is the constant underlying concern of chaos after a stand-off over fresh demands by Zanu PF to table a national report containing views captured during the public outreach process together with the Copac draft at the conference.

“There is need for the executive to come in and help deal with violence effectively,” Moyo said.

“The number of police officers at the conference venue will need to be beefed up and any other agency providing the policing service. Nothing will be taken for granted and left to chance to enable the disruption of the conference,” he said.

Rights groups such as Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights are fearful that if urgent security measures are not taken, “the Second All-Stakeholders’ Conference will collapse even more spectacularly than the first, and the conditions preceding the referendum will not be conducive to stemming violations of fundamental rights and freedoms”.

The MDC has requested Sadc observers for the conference.

Although Zanu PF appears to be issuing statements suggesting it wants a peaceful conference and a subsequent free and fair referendum, that call could be short-lived.

It is a lull before the storm, critics warn.

The constitution that is currently being drafted by Copac will — if adopted — inevitably shape the legal, institutional and administrative framework of Zimbabwe.

It will be used as a standard to measure good governance, while its implementation will also be used to assess compliance with the rule of law in Zimbabwe, the rights lawyers said.

Observers are fearful that the forthcoming All-Stakeholder Conference could witness deadly clashes between delegates given the polarised positions of the parties in the ruling coalition if adequate security arrangements are not made. - Gift Phiri


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