High Court rules on NCA's appeal

HARARE - A dark cloud hangs over the March 16 constitutional referendum as High Court judge George Chiweshe today sits to rule on the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) urgent application to postpone the plebiscite.

This comes at a time when Copac has already rolled out an awareness campaign programme at 143 venues in the country’s 10 provinces to sensitise the electorate on the contents of the draft constitution ahead of the referendum.

NCA chairperson Lovemore Madhuku last week filed an urgent chamber application seeking to stop the referendum following an announcement by the three political leaders in the coalition government that they had agreed on the final version of the draft constitution.

The agreement was followed by the referendum date proclamation by President Robert Mugabe.

In court papers, Madhuku argues that the time set by Mugabe for the referendum was grossly inadequate in light of the importance and complexity of the opinion being sought from voters.

He says while the president had the prerogatives under the Referendum Act to ascertain the view of voters on certain issues and to set dates for a referendum, he could not act arbitrarily.

Madhuku further argues that there was need for the translation of the draft constitution into a shorter version, the braille version and, thereafter, adequate time for potential voters and the general public to read it.

Mugabe and Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa as well as the director in the Attorney General’s civil division are cited as respondents in the court papers.

But despite the uncertainty surrounding the holding of the referendum following the court case, a defiant Copac has already hit the ground running with its teams already deployed to various districts countrywide to begin work from February 25 to March 8.

Should the courts give the referendum a green light, it would be a titanic tussle between MDC formations and their Zanu PF counterparts in one corner and some civic society organisations led by NCA in another.

The groups are campaigning for the rejection of the draft but some of the civil society organisations which took part in the writing of the draft including Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition are supporting the new charter and are assisting Copac in the publicity campaign.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Industry and Commerce minister Welshman Ncube and Mugabe, in a rare show of one purpose, have started mobilising their party supporters to vote for the adoption of the proposed new law. - Mugove Tafirenyika

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