Divided Civil Society meet in a National People’s Convention on Constitutional reform

HARARE,– Zimbabwe’s civic bodies, divided over the current Constitution making process led by government, have called for a Constitutional Convention this Friday, in the hope of finding common ground.

“A total of 2000 delegates drawn from over 234 civil society organisations from across Zimbabwe will converge at the Rainbow Towers in Harare to participate at the National People’s Convention on Constitutional reform,” read a joint statement by the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and the National Association of NGOs (NANGO), organisers of the convention.

“This historic and important convention will focus on developing a robust, meaningful and well coordinated civic society engagement in the constitution making process.”

The convention, which will run from July 3 to July 4, 2009, is certain to expose the fissures within the civic bodies.

A group led by the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), long viewed the opinion makers among the civic groups in Zimbabwe, is fighting to wrestle control of the process from government.

The NCA has launched a campaign to discourage Zimbabweans from accepting the resultant document in a referendum expected to be held in the next 18 months, the period set for the writing of the new Constitution.

On the other hand, there are some civic groups, which argue that this could be the only opportunity for Zimbabweans to write their own Constitution.

They say any attempt to boycott the process will allow the inclusive government headed by President Robert Mugabe to push through an unpopular document that will be difficult to remove later on.

Douglas Mwonzora, co-chairperson of the Parliamentary Select Committee on the making of a new Constitution, has warned the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), not to play into the hands of President Robert Mugabe by calling for the rejection of what should become Zimbabwe’s first homegrown Constitution in the next 18 months.

Mwonzora said President Mugabe was deliberately stirring controversy around the current constitution making process, by calling for the adoption of the Kariba Draft Constitution because he benefits from the continued absence of a people-driven Constitution.

“I want to warn the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) to be wary of singing from the same hymn book as Mugabe,” Mwonzora said.

He was a co-panelist at the Quill Club – Harare’s press club – Tuesday evening. Maddock Chivasa, NCA spokesperson represented the NCA.

Mwonzora said, “Mugabe may very well want a no vote in this Constitution. Mugabe will not benefit from a new Constitution in Zimbabwe. He will benefit from the no vote because the consequences of having a no vote are that we retain the current Lancaster House Constitution. What that means is that we retain Mugabe and his despotic powers.

“So if the NCA say they are advocating for a ‘no vote’ in the referendum, what they are actually doing, whether knowingly or not, is to help Mugabe remain in power.”

According to the Global Political Agreement signed last year by Zanu PF and the two Movement for Democratic Change (NCA) parties, the process of writing a new Constitution would be spearheaded by parliament.

But, the NCA is agitating for a process, which is driven by non-parliamentarians. The NCA fears that if politicians are allowed to stir the process, the outcome may not reflect the wishes of ordinary Zimbabweans.

The NCA is also calling for a non-parliamentarian such as a judge to chair the process.

But Mwonzora, a former spokesperson for the NCA, quickly warned President Mugabe was equally capable of appointing his ally to drive the process.

“In Zimbabwe, we all know who appoints judges," he said.

"They are appointed by the President. There is no set criterion for appointing the judges. Hundred percent of the judges we have were appointed by Mugabe. So if you say you want a judge to chair the process, you then want Mugabe’s alter ego to chair the select committee.”

The Nyanga North legislator also dismissed attempts by President Mugabe to impose the Kariba Draft Constitution as the basis for the writing of a new Constitution.

Mwonzora said statements by the Zimbabwean leader should be taken as utterances by the leader of a political party in Zimbabwe and would, as such, not influence the operations of his Select Committee.

“President Mugabe has a right to advocate what he thinks or wishes,” Mwonzora said.

“He has a right to say he wants the Kariba draft to be used as a basis. The MDC has got a right to say that Kariba should not be the alpha and omega of the constitution making process in Zimbabwe. This expression of a wish cannot be taken as an instruction to the Select Committee.”

At a news briefing Tuesday afternoon, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the MDC, also dismissed Mugabe’s utterances.

“We cannot take a document that was agreed on between the two parties and say this is now the Constitution,” Tsvangirai said.

“That Kariba document must be referred to the people. If the people accept the proposals that are there, fine but it is just like any other document that is a made as a reference.”

Most Zimbabweans view the current Lancaster House Constitution as the source of the country’s devastating political paralysis.

The document, which has been amended a record 19 times, has seen the country run by an Executive President with unlimited terms of office.

Government in April appointed a 25 member Parliamentary Select Committee co-chaired by three MPs from the country’s three main political parties to spearhead the crucial process.

Civil society will Wednesday afternoon conduct a press conference to highlight its findings on the Parliamentary select committee led Provincial Consultative meetings on the constitution making process.