A Foundation or a Ferry?

The draft constitution is out. It is a long document – 168 pages and quite complex and in my personal view, a mixed bag. Clearly it is a product of compromise from the opening statements to the annexure. The worst parts are the two chapters devoted to “agricultural land” which are clearly designed to protect the disastrous “fast track land reform process” that has plunged Zimbabwe into poverty and hunger.

It now goes to an All Stakeholders Conference where it will be subjected to scrutiny by several thousand delegates chosen from our entire society. In a discussion with Church leaders some weeks ago I said that they could have little input to the drafting process (now complete) but could make a significant impact at the All Stakeholders Conference if they came to the Conference with an analysis that measured each segment of the draft against a plumb line drawn from Scripture and Christian mores and values.

If they adopted a consensual and considered position on each section, the Conference would not only listen but be guided by their views and they might be able to improve the draft before it comes out for the referendum towards the end of the year. But flawed or not, it is clear that we are going to adopt this new Constitution and the question now arises “for what purpose?” It is not a document that, like the American Constitution of 1767, laid the foundations for the prosperous and democratic Federal State that it has become. But I think it might perform the task for which we intended it to be – a ferry to carry Zimbabwe across the river to a new start after 40 years in the wilderness.

It is from this perspective that the new document must be judged. It perpetuates the situation where we have a Central Government that is too cumbersome and expensive – a President and two vice Presidents, a Cabinet without limits, a larger lower House (270 against 210 members) and a Senate that seems to have little function but to frustrate the work of the lower House.

It proposes a weak Provincial Government structure and only marginally improves the legal environment for local authorities. It retains a highly centralized State. We had wanted elected Governors. They remain appointed although representing the majority in each Province.

But it does give us better conditions for Citizenship except that you have to live here for 10 years to qualify. I am pleased to see that the position of people born in Zimbabwe and to Zimbabwean parents is cleared up at last. The situation regarding the legal system is much improved – we now have a Constitutional Court and an independent prosecuting authority. The powers of the President have been significantly curbed and these suborned to Parliament.

But it seriously compromises property rights and clearly violates the rights of the Commercial Farmers who bought and held their property under conditions of freehold tenure guaranteed by the Constitution. The Bill of Rights is much stronger and will serve to protect the rights and freedoms of all Zimbabweans and this is a good thing.

The provision for a new delimitation prior to any election based on a new national population census, is an interesting one except that it stipulates that this can only happen if the census is six months before the election. I sincerely hope the delimitation on which the 2013 harmonized elections will take place will be based, not on Mudede’s carefully constructed voters roll, but on the outcome of the August 2012 census. This will at least correct the anomalies introduced by the 2008 delimitation which reduced urban constituencies to a third of the total.

This past week, in addition to producing the final draft for public scrutiny, Parliament passed three Bills – the new Electoral Act, the Human Rights Commission Act and a Bill protecting the rights of the older persons in our society. In my view, although they were all the product of the process of negotiation and compromise, they represent a significant step forward. The Electoral Act and the Human Rights Commission Act will both serve to enhance the electoral process that we are now engaged in and which should culminate in a general election next year.

We still have a number of hurdles to get over, but at last we are seeing real progress. Conditions in the country are desperate and we need to resolve the political crisis as soon as possible so that we can begin rebuilding our lives and this broken nation.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 23rd July 2012