Why does Zimbabwe have a dual Vice Presidency?

The Constitution of Zimbabwe is distinctive within the region and beyond, for the fact that it allows for a dual vice presidency – that is, the appointment of up to two Vice Presidents. – By Dr Alex T Magaisa

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In terms of s. 14(2) of the Sixth Schedule, the President has the power to appoint, “not more than two Vice-Presidents”. This is the mechanism under which the current Vice Presidents were appointed and this will be the facility until 2023, when Vice Presidents will be elected alongside the President.

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That elective system, in accordance with s. 92 of the Constitution, which is presently suspended, will demand that every presidential candidate must nominate two running-mates, who would then become the First and Second Vice Presidents upon election.

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The running-mates system is similar to but not the same, as the running-mates system in other countries such as the US, Kenya, Ghana and Malawi.

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In all those countries, a presidential candidate is only required to nominate one running-mate, whereas in Zimbabwe, when the provision starts operating in 2023, a presidential candidate will be required to nominate two running-mates.

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Therefore, the dual vice presidency is set to become a permanent and fixed feature of our constitutional order.

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But some Zimbabweans have been querying why our Constitution creates a dual vice presidency.

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They question the economic wisdom of having two Vice Presidents in a country of less than 15 million people and which is also struggling to pay its civil servants let alone to meet the people’s social and economic needs, more generally.

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These concerns are not without reason. As it is, after the firing of former VP Joice Mujuru, the country is meeting the costs of paying three VPs because according to s. 102(3) of the Constitution, a former VP is entitled to the same salaries and benefits as if she were a sitting VP.

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However, it also seems to me that there has been serious neglect in failing to properly document and explain the history of the nation, so that some of these arrangements which do not make sense from an economic perspective may be understood (but not necessarily accepted) from other, equally useful angles.

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In this paper, I want to explain how this matter was debated during the constitution-making exercise and also to provide the historical context within which the phenomenon of the vice presidency was created. This explanation should not be read as a justification because I am actually in favour of a more flexible system.

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It is often said that a constitution is, in part, also a biographical profile of a nation and the dual vice presidency is one of those elements that distinguish Zimbabwe’s biographical account.

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Older readers may have more knowledge on the matters described here but we often forget that with s life expectancy southwards of 40, ours is a young nation and many among the young are oblivious of these historical matters.

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To be sure, the issue of whether or not to constitutionalise the dual vice presidency generated a great deal of heat during the constitution-making exercise.

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For the MDC parties, a dual vice presidency was an unnecessary economic burden on a nation that was already struggling financially. There was no sound economic justification for having two VPs in a small country like Zimbabwe.

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Further, they were aware of the circumstances under which the dual vice presidency had been established in the late 1980s and that it was tailored to suit the internal political dynamics of Zanu PF.

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The early 1980s remains a dark era of the Zimbabwean nation, which even President Mugabe has described as a “moment of madness” following the atrocities that were perpetrated against the people of the Matabeleland and Midlands region in a military operation generally referred to as Gukurahundi.

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It is an era whose scars have refused to go away and demand attention.

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Anyway, the origins of those problems were the political contestations between the two main parties of that era, Zanu PF and PF Zapu, both of which had valiantly prosecuted the liberation struggle in the 1970s.

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Although Zanu PF claimed the national victory in the 1980 and 1985 elections, it was obvious that PF Zapu retained great support and control of the Matabeleland regions.

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Given the evident problems and the suffering of the people in those regions, the two parties eventually negotiated the Unity Accord which was concluded in 1987, marking an historic episode in the history of not only Zanu PF but the nation given that these were the dominant political parties in the country.

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It was under this Unity Accord that the dual vice presidency was established, to accommodate both parties in the leadership structure and consolidate the unity that had been achieved between the two parties.

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Thus under this Unity Accord, the President of Zanu PF was given the power to appoint two Vice Presidents, one from the former Zanu PF and the other from the former PF Zapu.

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It was under this arrangement that President Mugabe appointed Joshua Nkomo and Simon Muzenda as his Vice Presidents of the party. A constitutional amendment transplanted this notion in the national constitution and from then onwards, Zimbabwe adopted a dual vice presidency at the national level.

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Therefore it is clear that it was a Zanu PF creation, designed to suit its circumstances and the MDCs argued that the country should not be burdened by a creature of Zanu PF and that in any event, there was no guarantee that Zanu PF would hold power in perpetuity so as to justify its internal political balancing mechanism in the national charter.

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They did not have a dual vice presidency in their own parties and saw no need to have such a system if they ever got into power.

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Zanu PF however saw it differently, believing that the arrangement was not just a Zanu PF affair but one that was necessary for preserving peace and stability in the country through equitable representation of the people.

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They saw the Unity Accord as not just a party affair but one of national significance. While therefore, the arguments of the MDCs were based mainly on economic grounds, the reasoning on the part of Zanu PF was mainly political.

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I must mention however that in all this, there is an unspoken but obvious effort at managing ethnicity in Zimbabwean politics.

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Even though the MDCs have not adopted a dual vice presidency, it seems there has always been an implicit recognition of the need for ethnic balancing as reflected by the ethnic origins of the leaders and their deputies.

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Zanu PF dealt with the issue through the dual vice presidency but the MDCs also dealt with it in their own ways but the common denominator is that they both recognise that it is an issue that cannot be wished away and requires attention.

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Even the national constitution provides in s. 104(4), which states that, “In appointing Ministers and Deputy Ministers, the President must be guided by considerations of regional and gender balance”. While there is no direct reference to ethnicity, it is subsumed in the reference to “regional balance”.

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Therefore there was a clear difference of opinions between the MDCs on the one hand and Zanu PF on the other hand. In order to resolve the problem, a compromise was reached. I remember pointing out that even the old Constitution had a good solution to the problem.

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Section 31C(1) provided that “There shall be not more than two Vice-Presidents of Zimbabwe, who shall be appointed by the President”. This meant that it was not mandatory for the President to appoint two VPs.

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The maximum cap was 2 VPs but the President could appoint 1 VP if he wanted. This was a flexible system, which allowed the President room to manoeuvre and respond to different circumstances.

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The proposition was therefore that the new Constitution should adopt a similar clause. It would be a suitable compromise between the contesting parties. If Zanu PF won, they could appoint two VPs to suit their internal political arrangements.

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On the other hand if one of the MDCs won, they would have the choice to appoint 1 VP if they wanted.

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But overall, I also thought it was tactical to have the option of two VPs, just in case there was ever a need for a coalition arrangement in future, in which case, the dual vice presidency would allow room for manoeuvre and political balancing.

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This position is reflected in s. 14(2) of the Sixth Schedule, which states that the President must appoint “not more than two Vice Presidents”. This is why President Mugabe was able to appoint only one VP when he appointed former VP Joice Mujuru on September 2013.

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The problem, however, is that when the running mates system starts operating in 2023, this flexibility will be removed. The requirement to have two Vice Presidents will no longer be optional but mandatory.

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This is so because s. 92 will require a presidential candidate to nominate two running mates, who will eventually become his or her First and Second Vice Presidents upon election.

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The flexibility of the current and old system will have been extinguished which means the dual vice presidency will have become a fixed and permanent feature of our constitutional order.

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While I appreciate the origins and rationale behind the dual vice presidency, we must not lose sight of the fact that it was a feature its unique circumstances and there is no reason to believe that it will always be a necessary arrangement.

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This is why the flexibility offered by the old and current system is better. While in 1987 and for a period thereafter, the dual vice presidency may have been a political necessity that was transposed onto the national stage because of events of the time, there may come a time when this arrangement will no longer be justified or necessary.

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It is for this reason that I would have preferred a retention of flexibility so that it would be possible but not mandatory to have two Vice Presidents.

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Dr Alex Magaisa can be reached on wamagaisa@yahoo.co.uk. You can visit his blog: http://newzimbabweconstitution.wordpress.com/

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