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Zimbabwe: Interviews -- The struggle for a people-driven constitution

Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai hoped to steer through an elite-driven constitution. Photo from http://kickmugabeout.blogspot.com/.

July 25, 2009 -- 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 Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), when they formed a power-sharing government in February 2009.

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 ordinary 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 (see below).

While in Harare recently Green Left Weekly's Simon Cunich spoke to DUF co-chairperson Mike Sambo and secretariat member Tatenda Mombeyarara. Sambo and Mombeyarara are also leading members of the International Socialist Organisation, Zimbabwe.

* * *

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 socioeconomic 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 Zimbabwe 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.

[This article first appeared in Green Left Weekly, issue #804, July 29, 2009.]

Interview with International Socialist Organisation, Zimbabwe leader Munyaradzi Gwisai

July 23, 2009 -- SW Radio Africa's Behind the Headlines program -- Former Movement for Democratic Change MP for the seat of Highfield in Harare and University of Zimbabwe law lecturer Munyaradzi Gwisai is the guest on Behind the Headlines. Gwisai was one of the presenters at the All Stakeholders Constitutional Conference, which was disrupted by ZANU-PF thugs. He gives his thoughts on the current national unity government and says the MDC gave Mugabe breathing space by entering into a coalition, when the ZANU-PF regime was on the verge of collapse last year. [List to this interview HERE.]

Lance Guma: Hello Zimbabwe and welcome to another edition of Behind the Headlines. My guest this week is former member of parliament for Highfield with the Movement for Democratic Change, Mr Munyaradzi Gwisai. Mr Gwisai is also a lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe. Mr Gwisai, thank you very much for joining me.

Munyaradzi Gwisai: Thank you Lance and manheru mhuri ye Zimbabwe.

Guma: Right the starting point Mr Gwisai obviously is the constitution-making process that you yourself are involved in right now. Give us a summary of what you think is happening so far and your attitude towards it. I’ve had Dr Madhuku on the program; he’s heavily opposed to this process saying it should not be politician driven. What’s your take on it?

Gwisai: I work under a coalition of progressive and people-based civic groups called the Democratic United Front for a People-Driven Constitution (DUF). We are participating, and we participated in this stakeholders conference, under protest but we believe that this is a very important occasion and an event that the ordinary people of Zimbabwe and those who seek to fight for democracy and progress must engage in as an important platform and terrain for democracy.

We do not think that the process should be boycotted as has been called for by colleagues who for instance are in the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) chairperson Lovemore Madhuku and others. We think it’s just like the March 2008 elections, this is an important opening that democrats and all those who are fighting for a better Zimbabwe, especially those who are fighting for a Zimbabwe in which ordinary people can have a stake, and can have a say and can make a living in this country. It’s an opening that we must take advantage of and that we must push for change in, so for that reason we have called for participation and we call upon for participation but under very strict benchmarks and conditions.

Lance: Is there not a worry then Mr Gwisai that you might, as participants to this process, not have control over the final outcome?

Gwisai: Oh well, the issue of control that you raise that people like Madhuku and others have said you do not want a politician-driven process. We in the DUF believe in a people-driven process but I think you must be very clear about what ``people driven'' means. ``People driven'' ultimately does not mean parliament but neither does it mean asking civic society [organisations] as well. It must mean the people of Zimbabwe. The ideal opportunity and ideal process for writing a people-driven constitution is through an elected constitutional assembly. That is in the experience throughout Africa and throughout the global South and not self-chosen personalities or organisations as is happening now, or as would happen under some of these things.

The real thing at the end of the day, I think, as to whether or not we achieve it, will depend on the level to which the opposition, democrats and ordinary people are prepared to stand up and defend the space that is opening up. That is exactly what we did on the second day of the All Stakeholders Conference when elements aligned to hardliners in ZANU-PF tried to obstruct and stop the conference precisely because they are afraid that if this kind of process goes on, just like in March 2008, they will be exposed and that the will of the people will prevail.

Lance: Let’s draw on your experiences of what happened on that day, Monday July 13, that the whole stakeholders conference was supposed to be convened, I understand that you were also one of the presenters on various thematic issues there, just for our listeners who were not there, what exactly happened?

Gwisai: Well, what happened is that during the course of [the conference] ... many delegates were very clear in pointing out their opposition to any process that would be driven by the political parties around the Kariba Draft [the draft constitution written by and agreed to by ZANU-PF and MDC without any popular input]. You must bear in mind that the three political parties, that is ZANU-PF and the two MDC formations, had actually agreed in 2007 to a constitutional draft which they are going to try and use as ... the foundation of the constitutional process.

Now this draft is completely unacceptable to most ... ordinary people in the opposition and most democrats because it was written secretively by six people. It seeks to perpetuate the executive presidency of Robert Mugabe. It also excludes bread and butter issues – the right to education, the right to jobs, the right to health, [anti-AIDS] drugs etc. for ordinary people. So most people were opposed to this and were making this very clear, and I think what was very clear in the mood of the meeting was that up to two-thirds if not more of the conference was clearly in opposition to the Kariba Draft...

So when this happened, elements of ZANU-PF started ... chanting down the speaker of parliament, Lovemore Moyo, and causing disruption because they could clearly see that they were in a minority in the conference and that is what eventually led to the disruption. But we stood our ground, that is most of the ordinary people who were there in the opposition and the civic society, and we insisted that the conference had to take place. We also insisted that proper security had to be provided and the conference did resume only partially the following day after the leaders of the three major parties had also come out on television saying that they did not support the disruption.

So I think it was a very important test and this is where I think colleagues and comrades who are boycotting are making a mistake, the fact that people were able to stand their ground and insist that this process must continue, but also insist that the constitutional process must continue, not around the Kariba Draft because that is what was won, and secondly that the constitutional process must also ensure gender parity with 50% of women. I think were important gains were made and that we need to defend and go ahead and fight for in the opening process.

Lance: But some will point obviously to that chaos ... as evidence that this whole process is going to be dominated by partisan interests from the various parties.

Gwisai: Yah, but how can you avoid a partisan political interest in a constitutional process? A constitutional process is a fundamental process of setting up values, principles and institutions of society, and in that process, political parties are going to be engaged. So one of the issues that we have raised with colleagues, for instance in the NCA, is that their demand that political parties have 20% representation in the constitutional process is unrealistic. It’s unrealistic because the MDC, certainly the major MDC faction led by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and ZANU-PF between ... them -- as shown by the March 2008 election -- represent millions of Zimbabweans.

You can’t just dream and wish them away and neither can you just wish that civic society groups, many of whom are small groups that are run by volunteers and are funded externally should then seek to represent the will of the people. You come to South Africa where the most democratic constitutional process in Africa, that process was done by seven political parties after an election. You go to Uganda, you go to Ethiopia. So, but the reality is that I think, those of us who seek change within the political parties and outside must fight for benchmarks that allow genuine consultation and engagement of the people and defending the space that is there.

So I don’t buy the argument that you must marginalise political parties. Political parties are legitimate expressions of the will of people and you can’t just wish them away in favour of civic groups.

Lance: Ok, Mr Gwisai, I’ll move to another topic, just setting aside the constitutional debate, and focus on the [government of national unity between ZANU-PF and the MDC] that we have had since February. What do you make so far of this new arrangement?

Gwisai: Well this arrangement just proves what many of us on the left have been arguing. That this was a compromise arrangement between the elites in both the ruling party ZANU-PF and elites in the opposition MDC to reach a compromise that would allow them to sit down and share the cake of Zimbabwe among themselves while the people are suffering.

So the reality is that the conditions and lives of ordinary people -- of workers, of people in the rural areas, of our students, our children -- has continued to be extremely harsh, extremely hard while politicians across the divide are busy looking after themselves, as seen by a situation where the University of Zimbabwe remains closed, as seen by a situation where water and electricity are unaffordable for ordinary people but MPs demand and are given US$30,000 each for cars.

So this is an elite arrangement. The dollarisation of the economy has also brought untold suffering but at the same time, it’s an elite arrangement that leaves the ZANU-PF dictatorship in power. The power of Robert Mugabe as the president of Zimbabwe remains intact despite the fact that he lost the election.

So as far as I’m concerned the arrangement has allowed a bit of space in terms of a democratic opening but fundamentally it has not changed the character of an authoritarian and dictatorial regime in power.

Lance: Do you think the opposition had a choice? Is there any other alternative that maybe you would have recommended and say right, this is the route that you should take?

Gwisai: Well certainly, by the end of the December 2008, Zimbabwe was grinding to a halt. Virtually everything was coming to a standstill in terms of public services like electricity, like water, education and when you have a situation where members of the armed forces, junior soldiers were now revolting in the streets you can then know that the regime is on its back. So what was required I think was the courage and vision to mobilise the ordinary people, the working people of our country and the same remains [the case] now which is indeed one of the reasons why we still support participation in the constitutional process, we’re simply saying we must use this space to reorganise, to remobilise, knowing full well that this government and regime that is in power right now is not going to surrender power on a silver platter.

We are going to have to wrest power, we are going to have to fight in the streets of our country and use the current space to build towards that confrontation. Anyone with illusions that Mugabe is going to go peacefully, anyone with delusions that ZANU-PF is going to go peacefully, is just dreaming or is fooling the people of this country. The real struggle remains ahead. What we must do is to mobilise and organise from the working people’s perspective.

Lance: Ok Mr Gwisai, we’re running out of time but I’ll ask one final question. In your own assessment of this arrangement, obviously both parties to this agreement have something that they want from it, in your assessment, let’s start off with ZANU-PF and Mugabe, what do you think they want from this coalition government?

Gwisai: Mugabe needs breathing space. ZANU-PF and Mugabe need a breathing space. As I said, their backs were against the wall as a result of a collapsing economy and as a result of isolation regionally, internationally and also growing working people's unrest. So what he wanted was and what he still wants is a breathing space, which that Tsvangirai [and] the MDC gave him and to be able to reorganise with a build and after that, re-impose the dictatorship of the regime. So this is why the security operators of the regime have not been dismantled. This is why Joint Operation Command is still meeting. So the dictatorship is still here and will crush the opposition, including Tsvangirai, when the time is right, when it feels that it has gone over the hill.

Lance: And what about Tsvangirai and the MDC, what do you think they are seeking to benefit from this arrangement?

Gwisai: Well I think they are just naive...Tsvangirai [argues], as he did when he was recently on his Western trip, that things have fundamentally changed in Zimbabwe. Now I think for most of the leadership of the MDC, many of them are tired, exhausted, some are just outright rank opportunists who are prepared to make their bed out of this new arrangement.

But in terms of the ordinary people of the MDC, of the opposition, I believe that obviously there was an element of that tiredness and exhaustion but I think that to continue trusting and for them to continue putting complete faith in their leadership would be disastrous.

I think that for the ordinary people of Zimbabwe in the opposition, they must take the slight opening up of democratic space that is there now, including the current constitutional process, to reorganise, rebuild in order to take, head on, this dictatorship. I think a united people of Zimbabwe, especially from the ordinary people, fighting from a working people's perspective, centred on bread and butter issues, can in fact take on and defeat the Mugabe regime.

Lance: Now Mr Gwisai, a lot of people are curious, you are a former member of the MDC and people would want to know is there is any chance of you rejoining the party?

Gwisai: Well not necessarily in the immediate but what brought us together I think is also what still can allow us to work together. The desire and goal of fighting the dictatorship in Zimbabwe and the fight for democracy in particular, the democracy that would make ordinary people have better lives as opposed to the elite, and that is what we are doing in the constitutional process.

More so that the MDC leadership has now come out renouncing the Kariba Draft and we are going to be ready to work with them in that process as long as they are fighting the dictatorship and as long as we are saying the many fronts on which to fight. What matters is that our goal remains one of fighting for a people-based democracy against a dictatorship by Mugabe and by the capitalists.

Lance: That’s Mr Munyaradzi Gwisai joining us on Behind the Headlines. Mr Gwisai, thank you so much for joining us.

Gwisai: No, thanks a lot, Lance.


DUF (Zimbabwe) leaflet for the All Stakeholders Conference, July 13-14, 2009

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