A New National Dispensation

In 1997, a young man I knew as the Secretary General of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions made a statement to the effect that the crisis in Zimbabwe was being caused by two things – a faulty Constitution and a rogue Government that had lost its way. He launched the National Constitutional Assembly (the NCA) and then, after the food riots that year, when several people were shot dead by the security forces, he called for a Working Peoples Convention to decide what to do about the rogue State. The result was the formation of the MDC in 1999 and the launch of a protracted struggle to change the way the country is governed.

In 2006, just six months after the split in the leadership of the MDC following an attempt by the Secretary General (Welshman Ncube) to take over the leadership of the Party, that same man, called for a Congress of MDC structures and membership in Harare and in response 22 000 people, just ordinary people, small scale farmers, cross border traders, street sellers, builders and workers from all sectors of the economy, walked, hitchhiked and rode on trains and busses to Harare where they arrived on late Friday afternoon, slept hard on the ground that night and in the next two days, endorsed Morgan Tsvangirai as Party leader and selected a new team to work with him on the future of the Party and the Country.

It was a festival of democracy and simple human dignity and courage. On the Sunday afternoon that large crowd of ordinary men and women did an extraordinary thing – they adopted a simple road map for the way ahead to a new Zimbabwe. They stated that they would wage a democratic struggle for power, would not use violence in any form to achieve those ends, force Zanu PF to the negotiating table to agree on new conditions for the next elections, then force through a new Constitution and win the subsequent election and go on to form a new Government that would restore their freedoms and dignity.

Just 24 months later, they beat Zanu PF in another lopsided contest and were denied victory by regional leaders who were not prepared to accept that such a movement led by a man with little education, could defeat one of the great liberation Parties in Africa and depose a man with six University degrees. But in the following melee, all involved recognised that like it or not, the MDC could not be excluded and the result was the GNU in February 2009.

The man who started it all, turned his attention back to the need for a new Constitution. Forced to share power with his erstwhile enemies, the MDC leadership started work on a new Constitution. We knew what we wanted but the problem for Zanu was that if they conceded all that we demanded, they would be sunk. Despite intense opposition, progress was made and eventually in late 2009, the Constitution making process began.

In the subsequent 4 years, a Committee of Parliament was formed (COPAC), a million Zimbabweans were asked what they wanted from the process and a comprehensive and a detailed record made. Then came the negotiations between the bitter rivals. After two and a half years, final agreement was reached and was signed in June 2012. Even then the hardliners were not satisfied, they demanded hundreds of changes. The MDC said that the concessions made in the negotiations were the limit to what we would accept. In the subsequent struggle, both sides stuck to their guns and the impasse was only unlocked when three weeks ago regional leaders intervened and Zanu PF was forced to accept the final draft prepared by COPAC. Last week this was taken to Parliament and in three days the draft was adopted and sent to the country for a referendum.

Now the debate begins on the referendum and this will not be easy because the draft runs to 172 pages, the drafting instructions used by the drafters is 145 pages long and the other documents run to perhaps a 1000 pages. Most people will simply have to take our word that we are satisfied that this is the best we can do while we are in the GNU and to trust us to correct the shortcomings once we are in power alone.

This is the first time this country has been allowed to participate in drafting its own Constitution. This is the first time the process has been carried out by local Citizens and the actual legal drafting has been done by local lawyers and specialists. It is a home grown deal but its faults come from the fact that it eventually had to be negotiated by political Parties with a totally different view of the State and the future. Both sides made compromises, both sides got what they wanted; that is the very nature of a negotiation.

For us in the MDC we wanted a devolved State that was governed by a smaller Government with reduced power at the center and term limits – not just for the President but for all senior officers of the State. We wanted a stronger Parliament and a completely restructured Senate that would not be a hindrance to change when the time came. We wanted a strong and independent and professional Judiciary with complete autonomy and responsibility for the rule of law. We wanted a Constitutional State where the Constitution would become a part of every Citizens Highway Code. We wanted a Constitution that for the first time would give every person dignity and rights and every woman, equality in society, before the law and in the State.

We wanted a Constitution that would treat every Zimbabwean, irrespective of their race, tribe, color, gender absolute equality in all spheres of life. If you are born in Zimbabwe, have at least one Zimbabwean parent, you can never be deprived of your citizenship. For hundreds of thousands this is a real step forward and an end to the nightmare where they had found themselves “non persons” under Zanu PF. We wanted and got an independent prosecuting authority and now the Attorney General will be the legal advisor to the State.

We got new rules for elections and a series of Commissions that will act independently of the State in pursuing the wider interests of the People in so far as the process national healing, human rights, the land commission and so on.

Overall I think it’s quite a decent document that will help us carry out the task that lies ahead of us in July when once again, for the sixth time, we face Zanu PF in an election which will determine all our futures.

Eddie Cross
Harare 9th February 2013