Copac survives court scare

HARARE - Today's Second All-Stakeholders Conference has survived a last-minute cancellation scare, but there are fears that the crucial indaba could turn into another violent affair.

Fears also abound that President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s parties could turn the conference into a charade, as their parties confirmed that Zanu PF and the MDC formations will negotiate the final document to be taken for a referendum.

The stakeholders’ conference is key because it provides “stakeholders” such as civil society a chance to put forward recommendations that could be incorporated into the draft.

The new constitution is viewed by regional countries which helped negotiate the fragile coalition government as key to credible fresh elections after the disputed 2008 presidential election runoff.

By late yesterday, the conference hung in the balance until the High Court gave the all-clear for it to proceed.

High Court judge Maria Zimba Dube dismissed an application by Zanu PF activist Danny Musukuma to stop the conference.

Musukuma had argued that the Constitution Select Committee (Copac) had short-changed the nation by not publishing a national statistical report on public outreach programmes undertaken before the drafting of the charter.

Copac is a parliamentary body made up of MPs from the three governing parties and has been spearheading the crafting of the new constitution.

Copac co-chair Paul Mangwana said the conference would proceed “without incident” following the High Court ruling.

“We appeared in court before Justice Dube, who gave a ruling in Copac’s favour because Copac was in full compliance with a previous judgement by Justice (Ben) Hlatshwayo on Thursday ( to publish the report on the Copac website),” he said.

“We gave the applicant a copy of the National Statistical report, we distributed it to all the provinces and we published to the nation where to find it on our website. Everything is in place,” Mangwana said.

In his court application, Musukuma had argued that it would be unfair to Zimbabweans for the conference to proceed without the public studying the national report.

Copac officials were yesterday stuck in meetings on final preparations, amid assurances of high security.
But that has done little to allay fears of chaos as happened with the first all stakeholders conference when violence broke out.

Civic society groups, who spent the better part of last week fighting the committee over the modalities of the accreditation process for delegates to the conference yesterday told the Daily News that the polarity that has pervaded the country’s political environment could affect the conference.

In an interview with the Daily News, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition director Mcdonald Lewanika said the competition angle brought about by the three protagonists to the Global Political Agreement (GPA) was likely to take centre stage.

“The All-Stakeholders conference is not taking place in a vacuum. The polarised environment that has been the hallmark of our politics in the past decade or so coupled with the events of the first conference creates a very uncertain scenario,” Lewanika said.

He said Zanu PF will be pushing its 266 demands which the two MDC formations have declared they will not accept.

“It creates a very tense environment in which to operate and tends to pit the three parties against each other. Our hope is that the events of the first All-Stakeholders will not be repeated even though the atmosphere will not be very welcoming,” said Lewanika.

National Association of non-Governmental Organisation (Nango) director Cephas Zinhumwe echoed Lewanika’s sentiments.

“The biggest challenge we will have is the autonomy of the civil society organisations that make up at least two thirds of the delegates attending. The situation has not been helped by the way and form of invitation that Copac adopted.

“Although some form of remedy has been tried there is still room for associating particular non-governmental institutions with certain political inclinations creating a cocktail that is potentially explosive,” Zinhumwe told the Daily News.

However, Copac co-chairpersons Mwonzora and Paul Mangwana in the company of Rejoice Ngwenya who stood in for Edward Mkhosi said as far as they were concerned, the conference will represent Zimbabweans in general.

“We are satisfied with our preparations and the delegates that will attend and genuinely believe the conference will be all encompassing,” the trio told civil society delegates who had grilled them over accreditation processes.

Civic society organisations had objected to being invited to the conference under the banner of political parties and Copac gave in to their demands.

Zinhumwe said their demands were based on the understanding that there will be life after the constitution making process.

“We risk going the way South Africa has gone in which you see some of the most important civic society groups hobnobbing with political parties. We will still need to keep our space and be watchdogs long after Copac,” said Zinhumwe.

Goodson Nguni, who fronts a group known as Federation of African non-Governmental Organisation, and is a fierce critic of Copac was not available for comment.

Zimbabwe’s start stop constitution making process has been beset with disagreements.

The process has however been forced to limp on following declarations by regional body and guarantor to the GPA, Sadc that there will be no elections in the country without a new a constitution.

The new charter is supposed to create an environment conducive for the holding of free and fair elections following a blood spattered plebiscite condemned at home and abroad.

The 2008 charade gave birth to the ruling coalition that has been saddled with the unenviable task of democratising Zimbabwe’s poisoned political environment. -
Richard Chidza and Bridget Mananavire

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