No to window dressing in the new constitution

Gertrude Pswarayi
Posted June 30, 2009 from Zimbabwe

On his rise to power in 1985, former Soviet Union President, Mikhail S. Gorbachev introduced a component of his revolution which he called glasnost. The soviet political dictionary defines glasnost as one of the most important democratic principles guaranteeing the openness of the work of the organs of government, allowing access to information so that society can inform itself about their activities. The much avowed Glasnost however had one serious catch. It did not allow for the criticism of socialism. Today Zimbabwe is on the verge of having a new constitution. Politicians, civic groups, churches and other influential groups in our society have started working in earnest to draft this new important document. This exercise is not new to the people of Zimbabwe. In 2000, the country underwent the same exercise that produced a draft that was rejected during the referendum. Those who were campaigning for the no vote pointed at issues such as the process under which the draft constitution was made. In other words, though the draft had some good sections, there were some nails under the carpet, so to speak. The eloquence of the Constitutional Commission, Jonathan Moyo, and the massive media campaign added the suspicion that somehow, the document was not as good as it was said to be or as it looked. The people of Zimbabwe deserve a constitution that has no ambushes. We do not need a constitution that indicate left and turns right. We do not need a document that will ultimately benefit one individual or satisfy one individual’s ego. Under no circumstances should we allow two or three political parties and some few selected people to shape our destiny, or waste resources on another draft constitution that will be rejected by the people. Everyone should actively participate in the constitution making process as set out in article 6 of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) which states that it is the Zimbabwean people that have the right and duty to write their own constitution through public consultation processes and stakeholder conferences. Already some loopholes have already started to emerge. The Select Committee which is responsible for spearheading the consultation process has been appointed. It has three chairpersons from the three political parties represented in parliament. However, they are all men and women who constitute 52 percent of the Zimbabwean population do not occupy key positions. As women we therefore need to raise our concerns and actively advocate for proportional representation particularly at decision-making levels. There is need to avoid window dressing the constitution with flattering words that have hideous intentions behind them. The way forward is for information to reach everyone, including women in the rural and remote areas. They should be allowed to understand and participate in what is happening through providing them with information in the best way they can understand. Right now a lot of ground has been covered yet the majority of people, even those in the urban areas are still unaware of what is going on. The lack of diversity and plurality in the media, particularly broadcast has not helped much. After all the majority of people in the country have little faith in the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation. In actual fact, the constitution making process should have been preceded by the opening up of air waves in real terms to allow for free flow of information. The public media (print and broadcast) should fulfil its mandate of informing and educating the public. Civil society groups should also play a role to complement the government in the dissemination of information to all the people particularly to those at grassroots level. A bad process can not yield a good result. Therefore, to come up with a democratic constitution that also addresses women’s issues we need to ensure that the constitution making process has no flaws. Who appoints the sub-committees? Who attends the stakeholder meetings? Is there a criterion for approving the draft constitution? What happens if people vote ‘No’ to the draft constitution? Who will vote in the referendum? How long will parliament take to pass the new constitution and how is the process monitored? All these questions beg for serious considerations. The government should make all the efforts to close all the loopholes that may lead to another disastrous end to the constitution making process.

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