Zimbabwe invites constitution experts for stakeholders conference

THE Parliamentary Select Committee on the new Constitution has lined up foreign Constitutional experts for the first all-stakeholder conference, as Zimbabwe moves to refine its constitution-making process by drawing lessons from regional countries.

South African lawyer and businessman Mr Cyril Ramaphosa and a Rwandese parliamentarian are expected to share their respective countries’ experiences during the two-day conference, which begins in Harare on Friday.

In an interview last Friday, Select Committee co-chair Mr Douglas Mwonzora said his committee settled for the two at a meeting last week.

He said Mr Ramaphosa’s input at the conference would be critical as his country crafted its Constitution under circumstances similar to those of Zimbabwe.

The South African lawyer is scheduled to jet into the country on Thursday while the Rwandese parliamentarian’s participation at the event is still to be confirmed.

"South Africa’s constitution-making process is viewed as a success story, hence our desire to learn from that country," said Mr Mwonzora.

"Similarities can also be drawn between the two countries: South Africa emerged from a conflict situation to craft their Constitution. On the other hand, Zimbabwe is coming from a situation of polarisation.

"The process remains wholly Zimbabwean; the rest of the speakers (at the conference) will be Zimbabwean. We will, however, borrow from African wisdom where shortfalls are seen."

In 1996, South Africa wrote a home-grown Constitution following the defeat of apartheid and the coming of a multi-party political settlement in that country.

The supreme law and the process which preceded it are widely recognised for their incorporation of the majority of South Africans’ views.

Mr Ramaphosa was, at the time, chairman of the Constitutional Assembly, which led the process. Mr Mwonzora said the first all-stakeholder conference was one of the most critical stages of Zimbabwe’s Constitutional reform.

He said his committee had finalised the programme, a full list of participating groups and their representation quotas.

"The Parliamentary Select Committee has also received assurances that resources for the event will be made available," said the committee chairman.

He added that the conference’s main focus was to set up thematic sub-committees, which will spearhead public consultations and synthesise the collected information.

Twelve such sub-structures with a 40-member composition each have been proposed. Mr Mwonzora said delegates will also, among other issues, examine review mechanisms for each phase of the project.

He said the Select Committee was considering scaling down the number of delegates from 5 000 to 4 000 "to make the number manageable".

The participants, drawn from 20 stakeholder groups, were selected and tested against their respective organisations’ national representation and their proportion to Zimbabwe’s population, among other criteria.

Yesterday, 234 civil society organisations attending the "People’s Convention on Constitutional Reform" in Harare came up with points they want the all-stakeholder conference to consider.

Among these are the need for extensive education campaigns on Constitutional reform and the equal representation of women.

The convention was organised by the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CZC) and the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations.

CZC co-ordinator Mr McDonald Lewanika said: "The purpose of this gathering was to examine common areas of concern that need to be addressed.

"The issues raised here will be carried to the first all-stakeholder conference."