The struggle for a people-driven constitution

INTERVIEW – The first All-Stakeholders’ Conference aimed at drafting a new constitution in Zimbabwe was held in Harare on July 13-14.

The constitutional reform process is the result of the agreement reached between President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and the Movement for Democratic Change, when they formed a power-sharing government in February.

The agreement between ZANU-PF and the MDC sets an 18-month timeline for drafting the constitution. It mandates two so-called all-stakeholders’ conferences and national consultation, but the process is controlled by a parliamentary committee.

The final draft is to be determined by parliament before going to a referendum.

Many in the pro-democracy movement believe the constitutional reform process is dominated by politicians and will fail to incorporate the demands of Zimbabweans suffering worst from the country’s social and economic crisis.

On May 22, a gathering of social movement organisations formed the Democratic United Front for a People-Driven Constitution (DUF). It unites more than 30 organisations, including trade unions, women’s groups and HIV/AIDS groups.

DUF members took part in the July 13-14 conference and distributed thousands of leaflets calling for a “democratic, participatory, gender-balanced, [and] people-driven” constitution-making process. 

An interview with DUF co-chairperson Mike Sambo and secretariat member Tatenda Mombeyarara in Harare. Sambo and Mombeyarara are also leading members of the International Socialist Organisation, Zimbabwe.

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What led to the current constitutional reform process?

TM: Last year, when Zimbabwe was at the peak of the political and economic crisis, the constitutional question emerged as the key to a resolution. The current reform has emanated from the government of national unity between ZANU-PF and the MDC, which sees constitutional reform as a priority to resolve the crisis.

To what extent do you think ZANU-PF wants to limit the process?

MS: I am convinced that ZANU-PF is not genuine about this whole process of constitutional reform — they really want to limit it as much as they can.

One of the demands coming from the MDC rank-and-file is to limit the presidential tenure and take away some of the extensive presidential powers. ZANU-PF does not want this.

ZANU-PF is full of bourgeois politicians who have accumulated so much wealth, taking advantage of being the ruling party. They wouldn’t want any constitution that threatens the property they have accumulated.

What is the MDC’s perspective for constitutional reform?

MS: The MDC sees this as part of their “regime change” agenda, through which fresh elections are to be held in the coming 18 months. ZANU-PF, however, seeks to consolidate the political powers it unjustifiably holds and would not tolerate fresh elections soon.

But on socio-economic issues, which ordinary people are demanding or expecting to be addressed by the constitution, ZANU-PF and MDC agree not to allow such things to be written in.

TM: The MDC elites, like ZANU-PF, want to protect the propertied class. By endorsing the Kariba Draft constitution [drawn up by the two parties in secret in 2007] they are saying “no” to the social and economic rights of the people. They want to make sure they do not cross swords with the international community by attacking property.

What has been the approach of social movements to the constitutional reform process?

TM: Three positions have emerged in civil society. The first position, held by the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), the Congress of Trade Unions and the National Union of Students is that this process is flawed. It’s led by parliament, it’s not people-driven — so they will not participate.

Another part of civic society, led mainly by the Crisis(In Zimbabwe) coalition and the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations, which are pro-MDC, is saying that the political situation in Zimbabwe has changed so this constitutional reform will bring the results people desire.

The last position is that of DUF, a coalition of social movements that agrees with the NCA that the process is not people-driven. Learning from Venezuela and South Africa, a constitution should be spearheaded by a constitutional assembly composed of direct representatives of the people, not by parliament.

But for tactical reasons, we will participate in the process under protest and continuously expose it for the sham it is.

What sort of economic rights do you seek to have included in the constitution?

MS: DUF is for a constitution that reverses the attacks by neoliberal and political authoritarian structures on ordinary people over the past decades, and enshrines as legally enforceable the socio-economic rights of the working people.

Zimbabwe is just recuperating from economic crisis. From education to food and health, everything is virtually collapsed. We want the right to education, free and funded by the state. We want the right to health.

If you go to hospitals, except for private-only hospitals, there are no drugs. There are no doctors, because they are not being paid. Go to schools and they are open but there are no teachers, because they are not being paid.

There is plenty of food on the shelves of shops, but people are not earning enough to afford it. So we want affordable food.

What is DUF’s strategy for involving people in the constitutional reform process?
MS: We are limited by our resources — we cannot be as mobile as we want to in order get to people in rural areas. But our strategy is “outreach”, to go to people to make them aware what the constitution is and what should be expected from it. Also, to [promote] lessons from other countries with very progressive constitutions, such as Venezuela and other Latin American nations.

Even in South Africa, there is a very progressive constitution.

TM: We have managed to gain support from about 16 unions, which is a significant section of the labour movement. We have managed to mobilise various social movements.

The way forward is to go into the provinces and tell people how to express their positions in favour of their rights being protected in the constitution.

How do you expect this process to unfold?

MS: The process is heavily polarised. The MDC is using the constitutional process as a regime change process.

Its eyes are cast on future elections, which they expect within 18 months. But ZANU-PF are saying there will be no elections for five years.

But the solution to rescuing Zimbabwe lies in putting in place a constitution that addresses economic democracy to determine whether we continue a situation where our mineral resources are benefiting a handful, or Zimbabweans get free quality education, health care and shelter funded by the proceeds from our resources.

If the constitution is written as suggested in the ZANU-PF-MDC agreement, the end result will be nothing more than what we currently have, save for a few civil rights the MDC may win.

TM: If the government insists on imposing a constitution that does not incorporate social and economic rights, we will campaign for a “no” vote.

We don’t intend to demobilise DUF after the writing of the constitution. It will play a watchdog role and ensure the rights we are campaigning to be in the constitution are realised. We will put the government to task by way of mass action to make sure they are realised.