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Mugabe must show respect

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President Robert Mugabe’s shock announcement on Friday that he will drag the country into a referendum on the new constitution next month was yet another demonstration of how Zanu PF has been paying lip service to democracy since Independence.

Mugabe told a meeting of the Zanu PF central committee that failure to complete the new charter by his given deadline will see Zimbabwe holding elections under the adulterated Lancaster House Constitution.

He expressed his frustration with the four-year inclusive government, which under the circumstance has done well to clean up the mess caused by his 32-year-long dictatorial rule.

That the 88-year-old Mugabe is desperate for elections — most probably for selfish reasons — is now well documented.

But we did not expect him and his party to go this far in disregarding the views of other Zimbabweans.

We have no doubt that the majority of Zimbabweans are of the view that expecting a credible election under the present conditions is a pipedream.

Although the Constitution Select Committee has assured the nation that the draft constitution will be ready in the next few days, the timelines set under the Global Political Agreement would make it impossible to organise a referendum next month.

Once complete, the draft must be taken to the second All-Stakeholders’ Conference and to Parliament for debate before Zimbabweans can decide on its fate.

Zimbabweans also need time to understand the draft before they make a decision at the referendum.

The Constitution is the “legal bible” that has a lasting impact on all Zimbabweans and for that reason, the public requires adequate time to digest its contents before a referendum.

Failure to do so will certainly see the resources that have been sunk into the process so far turning into a big waste.

Surely Mugabe does not expect all this to be done inside a month considering the state of the voters’ roll and the general lack of resources facing the inclusive government.

It is now clear that Mugabe and Zanu PF have decided that we should go to the polls using the Lancaster House Constitution and under the same conditions that made the sham June 2008 presidential runoff poll possible.

However, what Mugabe forgets is that this is no longer a one-party State, which he once tried to foist on Zimbabweans without success. The new era demands that he must consult widely before making far-reaching decisions that would have a bearing on the future of generations to come.

Besides consulting his partners in the inclusive government, the President is obliged to get the buy-in of regional leaders who are trying to help Zimbabwe solve problems it has created for itself.

South Africa’s position on this is clear — Zimbabwe is not ready for elections, a position shared by Botswana and other progressive democracies around us.

It is our humble view that the region must act now to stop Mugabe from riding roughshod over long-suffering Zimbabweans.

He has shown over and over again in the three decades that he has been in power that he does not respect the views of his fellow countrymen.

Mugabe clearly believes he has an eternal right to rule and do whatever he wants with this country because he was one of the leaders during the liberation struggle, hence his latest pronouncements.

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