Interview: Chamisa on new constitution and terror

ZIMBABWE Prime Minister and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai says a new constitution being drafted is "flawed", but he will be asking Zimbabwean people to pass it at a referendum as the first stage to remove Robert Mugabe. The party's spokesman Nelson Chamisa explains this stance to SW Radio Africa's Lance Guma:

Lance Guma: Hello Zimbabwe and welcome to Rules for our Rulers the programme where we look at constitutional issues. This week marked the ending of the constitutional outreach programmes in Harare and Chitungwiza and what we’ve decided to do is to get the MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa to come to the programme and explain where this leaves the country. Mr Chamisa thank you for joining us today.

Nelson Chamisa: Thank you very much.

Guma: OK now the constitutional outreach has ended, you have obviously over the months been expressing your concerns at this process as not meeting the test of legitimacy so where does this leave us in terms of the draft?

Chamisa: Well I think let us be very clear and separate constitutional process issues from the content issues. So the process argument has clearly failed the test like what was indicated by our president. The whole process has clearly manifested perforations and inconsistencies to the extent that it has delegitimised itself and be that as it may we then have now to work on the content but we are not working on the content to endorse the process or to endorse the document, we are now working on the content to appreciate and acknowledge that there has been an effort to come up with a new constitution, which effort has not produced the desired result and not been as people driven as we would have wanted.

Meaning to say that if legitimacy and credibility are questions that are actually being unanswered we then have to go to a transitional document which document is then clearly on the basis of a residual contribution by the people to acknowledge their effort, their courage, their resistance to the kind of harassment they were exposed to, intimidation, operation Chimumu (Operation Keep Quiet) the kind of frog marching and kowtowing that we saw during this process. So we are trying to separate the process from the content.

We now await the report of the management committee so then you can see the collation and collection so that it’s a transitional document but at the appropriate and opportune moment Zimbabweans have to be given the opportunity to write a people driven constitution in a manner that will inspire confidence, that will inspire credibility and legitimacy and that will be at some point in future but as for (inaudible) document so that there is a balance, a (inaudible) balance of the condemned process and also to make sure that we have some semblance of a constitutional arrangement, the rules that are sufficiently conducive for the holding of a free and fair election then of course once there is a new government the process has to be started all over again.

Guma: So you are in effect saying it’s now not going to be about what people have contributed but essentially now a negotiated constitution between the three political parties?

Chamisa: Well it’s not necessarily a negotiation by, among the three political parties, it is actually on the basis on what the people have contributed. Of course we do acknowledge that people have not contributed those views under very conducive circumstances and this is why we are saying we would want people to at least be respected for their efforts because there are people in the rural areas, in difficult areas, who have braved, who have shown the courage to speak out. We need to respect these people.

But we are also saying that in as much as we are respecting them the whole process in its totality has not passed the test, meaning to say that we can’t say we have permanently come up with a conclusive document that will actually govern this country for the next decade, or for posterity and future generations. We need to just have a stop gap measure and a stop gap measure is a transitional document on the basis of the content so far contributed by the people of Zimbabwe in this condemned process.

Guma: Now from the get-go, Zanu PF have been campaigning for the Kariba Draft which has been criticised for maintaining a lot of the excessive powers of the presidency and they’ve been very consistent throughout, intimidating people, using the likes of Jabulani Sibanda in the different provinces. What is the likelihood of Zanu PF dropping some of the things that they are advocating for in the Kariba Draft and even agreeing to anything that you would suggest even from what people have contributed because history suggests they will not be compromising on what they want in terms of the constitution.

Chamisa: Well I would not want us to cross the bridge before we get to it. Let us get to the bridge and this is why we are now waiting for the report, this is why we are now working on the collation and collection of the evidence so far gathered, with the understanding of course that the process has not been as we would have wanted it to be.

Guma: Do you think what has happened now in any way Mr Chamisa is a vindication of the stance taken by Dr Lovemore Madhuku and the National Constitutional Assembly? Because from the get-go they have been arguing that this process, the way it has been structured, in the end it became a contestation of two political parties or three political parties and it was never now about the issues but about which party can push through which position whereas if an independent commission had run this, this would not have been the case?

Chamisa: Not necessarily. I actually contest that argument. Whether it was to be done by a council from the heavens or it was to be done by any other sacred personalities or eminent person, it would still have the same problems. The issue is not necessarily about how the process has been driven. It is actually about the fact that we need to deal with the context, we need to deal with the environment and these issues go beyond just to say if it had been a commission it was probably going to be worse if commissioners had actually been there.

Maybe we were going to even have worse problems because there’s still people in Zanu PF who continue to show the true colours of the beast, violence being their own main trump card. And this is why we feel that the issue’s not necessarily as parochial as to say that if there had been a commission the situation would have been difficult. That’s an if, that’s a scenario arising but as a matter of fact, we feel that what has to be dealt with are fundamental issues to say what is the nature of a people-driven constitution so that there’s sufficient consensus among Zimbabweans on what constitutes a people driven constitution and what constitutes a board that would be sufficiently be regarded to be neutral by all the players without necessarily saying that so-and-so was correct, so-and-so was not correct.

This process has taught us lessons, those lessons are very important for nation building, they are very important for building our legitimacy and credible processes in future and we work to start from there. This is why we are saying that this constitution cannot possibly be the alpha and omega of constitution making in this country. We need to obviously open a new platform, a new window where we are able to discourse, debate and probably cross-pollinate on what is the best exit point to the current crisis we have as a country, political crisis, the various challenges, constitutional issues that we are facing where people are not practiced in constitutional history, they just have constitutions as instruments of power.

Guma: Now of course there has been another argument that has been put forward and I’ll probably put it forward to you – there was some suggestion that instead of the plus eight million US dollars that has been put into this process, what the country could have done was to get constitutional experts, or a team of constitutional experts to sit down and come up with a draft that maybe draws from the various constitutions.

Like we could look at the South African constitution, the Namibian constitution and constitutions elsewhere and get the best bits from those constitutions and come up with one rather than this laborious process that we have gone through that has in a sense created this scenario of political violence and other ills.

Chamisa: As MDC we firmly believe and stand for a people driven process, a people driven constitution in terms of both the process and the content and this is why we feel that the substance should not be just drafted of course by a few experts. It has to capture the wishes, aspirations, anxieties and persuasions of people from across the political bent or political divide and this is what we are firmly convinced should be the best way forward. Not necessarily just people coming together to write a document.

We have to use the ingredients of what comes from the people as the basis of the input upon which we have to erect a document called a national constitution. As it is, we are in search of a national consensus and that consensus is evasive, it has evaded us by way of violence, by way of Zanu PF trying to impose and parachute their own thinking which is not necessarily the thinking that captures the totality of the country and this is the debate we have to go back to – how do we search for a national consensus, how do we search for that national contract between the governing and the governed?

That continues to be the national question, that continues to be a national narrative that has to be addressed and that has to be focussed on. That has not been the case. We still are convinced that it’s possible for people to be given their opportunity to define what they want, who they want to govern and how they want to be governed. That is still possible.

The fact that we have had this premature kind of arrangement does not necessarily mean that it’s not possible for us to perfect the process and also be able to improve on the content so that ultimately the people of Zimbabwe own a document and they have their pride in that kind of a document.

Guma: There has been some suggestion by some quarters that the constitution making exercise has clearly shown the Zanu PF game plan while the MDC in their words are naively showing good will and trying to make this work, Zanu PF is not interested in that at all and the violence meted out in areas like Masvingo and Manicaland is testament to the fact that the Zanu PF DNA has not changed. Are they right in saying you are naïve? You are not seeing what Zanu PF’s game plan is, they are not interested in a genuine people driven constitution and all they’re focussing on right now is the retention of power come the next elections?

Chamisa: Whoever thinks that we are where we are at the moment because of naivety must be naïve themselves. We are very clear about the game plan but you see, when you are dealing with circumstances such as ours, you don’t just play your cards openly, you play them close to your chest and we will not succumb to any pressure to try and force us to then throw those cards to some of the people who may actually be part of our competitors. We are clear about what we want.

What we want is a people driven constitution. A constitution making project has always been our project, and mind you Comrade Lance, the issue of the constitution was never a Zanu PF issue. Zanu PF people actually thought that there was no need for a constitution to be written. They were so happy with the Lancaster House constitution which they had panel beaten more than 15 times at that particular moment and they were trying to even perfect on that written template of repression which was being used by colonial Rhodesia.

They were not in any way interested in changing the laws of the land to reflect the feeling of the indigenous people. It was the MDC that dragged Zanu PF, kicking and screaming to the negotiating table to say look the issue of writing a constitution is a national demand and this is one fundamental issue that you must also realise, it did not just come on a silver platter. The fact that we are still grappling on the issue of the process and the content is part of the struggle. We are in that struggle and it does not in any way signify or manifest naivety. If anything it actually exhibits a genius of the democracy in the MDC and in the broader democratic space.

Guma: Have we in a sense as Zimbabweans, and not just the MDC but, put too much faith in a constitution as the solution to all our problems because some argue it’s not the constitution that creates rule of law but a respect for constitutions because even the current constitution as it is, if Mugabe and Zanu PF respected some of the provisions there we wouldn’t have half the problems that we have, so are we putting too much faith in a new constitution?

Chamisa: No, no, the fact that as MDC we have realised that we have to take the true trajectory, the one of the constitution and the one of constitutionalism. We want to make sure that we deal with the issue of the constitution by having the kind of debate we are having around the process and the content and I must say that we are succeeding because the fact that we are now discussing a national document to write the laws of the land that would define as a constitution is a fundamental point and that has to be appreciated.

Constitutionalism we have actually taught our colleagues in Zanu PF bit by bit. Almost centimetre by centimetre on how it is important to respect constitutions as our argument around the rule of law, our argument around a certain political culture which has to respect the constitution of the country and this is what we have been trying to do so we have actually been walking on a two-pronged kind of approach – dealing with the constitution in terms of writing a people driven constitution, to capture the wishes and aspirations of the people but also deal with the issue of the political practice, the issue of the political culture, the way we transact political business in this country, to respect the constitution, to be bound by the constitution so that individuals do not substitute the constitution.

In this country we actually run the risk of certain individuals thinking that they are actually above the constitution and their words become a clause in the constitution. That should not be. You know the word of mouth of anybody or any individual should not be the clauses and articles of a constitution but what the people want to see and what the people decide and this is the kind of debate we have been having.

This is why we actually feel that we have been very clear to say, in as much as we agree with the NCA we also want to make sure that we deal with the broader debate around the political practice and this is why you find that we occupy certain positions within government, those corridors are not occupied out of luxury but out of necessity to make sure that we chlorinate the political processes in this country and we also allow that cross-fertilisation of ideas between ourselves democrats and our colleagues in Zanu PF who are strangers to that democracy.

Guma: Final question for you Mr Chamisa, obviously the constitutional outreach ends, data collated, second Stake Holders conference held, a referendum and then hopefully elections that will take care of the political crisis once and for all. Now the deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara who leads a rival MDC faction is quoted as saying your MDC is not ready for elections so maybe as a final word would you like to respond to the deputy prime minister on the programme?

Chamisa: …(laughs) well I’m also not sure if it is possible for the Romans to speak on behalf of the Anglicans. We belong to two different organisations. Why Mr Mutambara chooses to be our spokesperson boggles the mind. If anything we feel that he should commentate on his political party, articulate the vision of that party rather than to come and be, pretend to be the person who actually knows what is good for us and what we would say

Guma: Well that’s the MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa joining us on the programme Rules for our Rulers. Mr Chamisa thank you so much for your time.

Chamisa: Thank you.