Building vibrant and tolerant democracies
Fears that the 2nd All Stakeholders Conference on Zimbabwe’s draft constitution from October 21-23 would be marred by violence and disruptive tactics fortunately proved to be false as the event passed off peacefully – and largely ceremonially.
Well-orchestrated by the three principals to the 2008 Global Political Agreement – President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister, Arthur Mutambara – in the visible presence of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), there were only a few minor political hitches along the way but much critical politicking lies ahead.
What was clear by the end of the conference was that a new constitution is certain, that elections in 2013 are even more certain, and that it is absolutely critical to define the role of SADC in these processes – and that civil society has a central role to play in all these processes.
Speaking of which, the three parties had initially agreed to limit civil society participation in the conference by accrediting their own members as ‘civil society’ representatives. Indeed, only 80 out of the 1300 delegates were originally reserved for genuine civil society. However, the OSISA-supported civil society constitutional indaba last week raised the issue with both the SADC and the Constitutional Committee – and the accreditation period was extended to allow civil society to register 340 delegates.
While this illustrates how the parties can conspire to isolate civil society, it also demonstrates the power that civil society can exercise to influence the process when it is united. This is bound to be a regular refrain in the critical months ahead.
Another issue that is bound to rear its head time and time again is the on-going dispute between the leader of the smaller MDC faction, Welshman Ncube, and his predecessor and GPA signatory, Arthur Mutambara. The MDC faction boycotted the opening ceremony because Mugabe had ‘insisted’ that Mutambara give one of the three opening addresses – and threatened to walk away if Ncube was given the stage.
While SADC’s position after the August 18 Maputo summit is that Ncube has replaced Mutambara as the 3rd principal, the dispute is largely personal – since Mugabe was challenged and out-manoeuvred by Ncube at the SADC summits in Luanda in June and in Maputo in August. In addition, Mugabe is using Mutambara as a pawn in a critical political game – to keep the two MDC factions apart. And this game will continue until the electoral victor is announced.
Meanwhile, the conference’s thematic committees went about their business with delegates freely submitting their opinions on the draft constitution. The question now is what will happen to the suggestions and to the current COPAC draft? Mugabe made it clear in his speech that the final constitution could still be negotiated by the principals outside of parliament. Needless to say Tsvangirai denounced this idea and stressed that the MDC-majority parliament – as the processes mandates – will lead the process.
Civil society must intervene in this dispute about the process because Mugabe and his ZANU-PF hardliners must be stopped from hijacking the process.
Already, the hardliners have made their feelings clear – criticising their own colleagues on the constitutional drafting committee for being outmanoeuvred by – or even selling-out to – their enemies in the MDC.
The ZANU-PF propaganda machinery and hardliners such as Dr Tafataona Mahoso have labelled their party’s key representatives in the drafting process – Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa and former junior Minister Paul Mangwana – as “worse than the MDC and Nyati”. Nyati was an informer who helped the Rhodesian forces bomb the Chimoio refugee camp in Mozambique in the late 1970s. To be compared to Nyati is a huge insult. Indeed, Mangwana is now suing the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation for damages for reporting the remark.
So what can civil society do to support a genuine transition, while the parties bicker and politick?
Firstly, SADC is proving to be more decisive than many feared and will clearly be very important in managing the transition process. Civil society has to maintain its engagement with SADC, especially emphasising the need for the implementation of essential pre-elections reforms to the media, security sector and election management (new voter’s roll etc.) as well as genuine independence of core state institutions.
Secondly, civil society has to be decisive in engaging both the political principals and SADC to ensure that the constitution making process remains under parliament’s control. This involves urging both Mugabe and Tsvangirai to implement a SADC resolution that Ncube replaces Mutambara as the 3rd principal to the GPA.
And thirdly, civil society will have to battle to ensure that the constitutional referendum and the subsequent elections are free and fair by – among many things – outlining the optimum number of SADC observers and when they should be deployed, making enough ‘noise’ about the need for state (especially election-related) institutions to be made independent and impartial, and getting the people ready to vote.
While the constitutional conference was peaceful, there are already alarming indications of an upsurge in violence and intimidation across Zimbabwe. And many of the key reforms have not yet been implemented. At the moment – as Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition made clear in its Barometer report – the transition process is flawed. But with SADC’s involvement, international support and a united, active civil society, Zimbabwe still has a chance of taking a major step towards a more democratic and open society in 2013.
It is an opportunity that might not come again for a long time.ShareThis