June deadline for Constitution committee

HARARE - Zimbabwe's Principals have given the Cabinet taskforce a June 29 deadline to align the new draft constitution with existing laws, a co-chairperson of a body writing the new constitution has said.

Co-chairperson of the Constitution Select Committee (Copac), Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, told a briefing meeting with stakeholders on the Zimbabwe constitution-making process in Johannesburg last Friday that the process has moved a gear up after endorsement of the draft constitution by Parliament on February 6.

“Now there is a committee of seven tasked with ensuring that implementation of the draft constitution is done,” Misihairabwi-Mushonga said, referring to Patrick Chinamasa, Tendai Biti, Eric Matinenga and three Copac co-chairs Douglas Mwonzora, Paul Mangwana and Edward Mkhosi as well as herself.

“This has to be done before June 29, because that is the last day of seating of the 7th Parliament,” he said.

Zimbabweans will vote next month to approve, or reject the draft constitution — a potentially pivotal moment for the southern African nation that underwent a violent and disputed election in 2008 and, more recently, has seen rapprochement between rivals.

President Robert Mugabe is expected to announce a referendum date on the draft.

The proposed constitution is being taken countrywide, with all parties campaigning for a YES vote after four years of haggling.

Even opposition parties seem to have resigned themselves to the fact that they cannot successfully de-campaign the draft.

Opposition Zapu led by Dumiso Dabengwa said its National Executive Committee (Nec) meeting held on February 9, after consultations and internal debate, resolved to vote a qualified YES in the forthcoming referendum.

“Many of our party’s key expectations have not been met and we believe that goes for those of many stakeholders, but we firmly believe that in order not to start from the beginning in fighting for a truly people-centred Constitution for Zimbabwe we should give this draft a qualified YES vote in the forthcoming referendum,” said Strike Mkandla, secretary general of Zapu.

Meanwhile, Misihairabwi-Mushonga told the Joburg indaba, organised by the Open Society Institute of Southern Africa that Zanu PF was trying to dampen the gains to weaken and divide pro-democracy forces.

“Zanu PF is now sending signals that even with a new constitution, people can still be cheated,” warned Misihairambwi-Mushonga.

“The draft constitution is a step forward as it largely enshrines women’s rights. It has a commission on peace and reconciliation to deal with post conflict matters, executive terms limits. The new constitution deals with security sector excesses by providing a clear transparency and accountability framework. Devolution is also provided for in the new charter,” she said.

“We don’t get everything in a Constitution but it provides a framework for an open, transparent society and Bill of Rights.”

Critics see the ongoing process as an undemocratic grab of power by the Principals who hijacked the constitution-making process from Parliament to negotiate their own deal and then whipping MPs to pass without vigorous debate and scrutiny.

The grab has engendered sharp opposition within civil society, with the pro-democracy National Constitutional Assembly ruling it invalid, and campaigning for a NO vote.

NCA leader Lovemore Madhuku told the Joburg indaba that the initial problems of the polity in Zimbabwe were not a result of the Constitution.

“The first problem in Zimbabwe is the absence of a culture to adhere to the Constitution,” Madhuku said. “When the NCA was founded, the idea was to challenge the flawed process.

“The idea of people driven was not to define a way but to anchor the process on openness and inclusivity. Through campaigning NO, we are promoting openness and plurality.”

Misihairambwi-Mushonga, who is also the minister of Regional Integration, said it was important for people to read the draft constitution in the context of the negotiations which resulted in its writing, and warned the actions by the NCA were divisive and said Madhuku and his troops needed to make a strategic decision for the sake of the people of Zimbabwe.

“Prof. Madhuku, do you understand the damage that you are causing to the broader cause through the NO vote campaign?” she queried.

The secretary general of the smaller MDC said if pro-democracy forces did not “pull up their socks”, or remained divided, it would provide a “priceless gift — like manna — for those in Zanu PF who are bent on reversing the gains realised during the transitional period.”

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