Countdown to a New Constitution

The decision was made in the past few weeks to proceed with the implementation of the road map to a new constitution as laid down, in some detail, in the Global Political Agreement. This has set us on a course that is likely to transform our political landscape and bring an early end to the dysfunctional arrangements that we are currently trying to make work with only limited success.

The timetable for this process is clearly set out in the GPA. It provides for the establishment of a Select Committee of Parliament within 2 months of the inception of the new Government - this has been done. Then the holding of a 'All Stakeholders Conference' by the 13th July - this will now take place between the 9th and the 12th July. This process then leads into a 4-month consultation period that will end in November.

The Select Committee must then complete its draft of the new constitution, which has to be tabled in three months at a second 'All Stakeholders Conference' in February 2010. Following this, in one month (by mid March 2010) a draft must be presented to Parliament. Parliament is then given one month to debate the draft and once this is concluded and a draft adopted (by mid April). The resulting draft has to be Gazetted followed by a 3month national debate and the holding of a Referendum in July 2010.

If adopted by the country in the referendum then it has to be Gazetted within a month and must be adopted by Parliament within 30 days of publication. That takes us to September 2010.

At its recent National Conference, the MDC decided that it would then call for an election within the 90 days as prescribed, Parliament will be prorogued and new (and hopefully democratic) elections held. That takes us right into the next wet season and this might present some difficulties.

The Select Committee has been very busy in the past few weeks - Zanu PF is terrified of the process and is trying by all means, to delay the inevitable - with little success so far. This coming week teams from the Select Committee will visit all provinces in order to hold consultative meetings. After this each Province will put together delegations to attend the All Stakeholders Conference to be held in Harare. The purpose of this initial meeting will be to receive reports from the Select Committee and to then agree on the process that will be followed in determining what the collective views of Zimbabweans are on the possible content of a new Constitution.

This is the second time this has been attempted since our independence in 1980. In the first attempt - forced on the Zanu PF government of the day, by a campaign launched by Civil Society and led by Morgan Tsvangirai in the early stages. The State appointed a Commission that was sent out to hear the views of the nation only to have those views distorted in the final draft in a way that would have perpetuated the rule of the Zanu PF elite. In the subsequent campaign, conducted by an arrogant and supremely confident Zanu PF, they completely underestimated the strength of public opinion.

Despite heavy rigging (independent investigations showed that the result was rigged by 15 per cent) the government lost the referendum. Then, in a carefully rehearsed performance, President Mugabe stated that he would accept the decision of the majority and continue to govern under the old constitution. In fact far from accepting the decision, Zanu PF rightfully recognised that they were in a real fight for power and began the desperate struggle to retain power that has dominated the affairs of the country since then.

In the subsequent elections held just a few months after the referendum, Zanu retained its control of Parliament by a tiny minority and resolved that it could never again allow a free and fair contest. The elections in 2000 were rigged and accompanied by widespread violence and yet despite what they thought had been a watertight programme of repression, they nearly lost power.
In the ensuing 8 year struggle with the MDC they have used every trick in the book and a few they invented, to ensure that the MDC was not successful in its democratic efforts to effect real change.

They identified the commercial farmers as holding the balance of power between the urban and the rural areas and systematically drove them off their farms destroying the highly successful enterprises they ran and inflicting poverty and displacement on their workers and two million dependents. The final cost - 70 per cent of all Zimbabweans on food aid and a 60 per cent decline in Gross Domestic Product. In the short space of one decade Zimbabwe was reduced to the status of a desperate 'Least Developed Country'.

They identified the voterís roll as the key to manipulating elections and reducing the vote for the MDC and they took control of this and simply changed it to yield the results they wanted. They identified the growing population of the urban centers and we had Murambatsvina - the forced displacement of over one million people in three months. They recognised that they could not win in urban areas - the MDC was just too well organised and entrenched and urban voters more independent and well informed, so they gerrymandered the constituencies leading to a 60:40 split - rural to urban even though the real population split is the other way round.

They closed down the only truly independent papers and took over the management of the content of all State controlled newspapers, the radio stations and national television. Zimbabwe was left to rely on three small radio stations broadcasting from abroad on shoestring budgets. They banned all independent media from reporting from inside Zimbabwe.

As if that was not enough, they drove millions out of the country in a deliberate attempt to reduce voting numbers with the result that nearly 5 million Zimbabweans now live outside the country. They then unleashed a savage campaign of terror on MDC structures - using, as they are even today, the legal system as a weapon of oppression rather than justice. Hundreds of thousands were beaten and tortured, hundreds murdered. Police cells became centers of collective punishment for those who dared to oppose the regime.

Then they resorted to ever increasing and blatant vote rigging - stuffed ballot boxes, falsified counting schedules and sometimes simply announcing false results and defying anyone to prove them otherwise. The civil service was simply beaten into subjection and any officials who dared challenge the system found themselves being severely dealt with or even killed.

Despite this, the MDC steadily gained on the regime, gradually forcing it back against the ropes and securing key concessions that eventually gave it electoral victory in March 2008. Aided by Mbeki, Zanu PF was able to extract itself from that debacle, but severely weakened in all respects. Now they find themselves facing fundamental reforms being debated and decided by a system they no longer control and in which they cannot dictate the outcome.

This is the first time ordinary Zimbabweans have had the opportunity to decide for themselves, what kind of government they want. It is this process that will finally signal the demise of Zanu tyranny. Just one last word on this issue - its time the Diaspora was included in these consultations - I see no sign of that today. Next elections, the Diaspora must vote, that would be the cherry on the cake.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 20th June 2009