Unlike all the other processes that have taken place since the formation of the Government of National Unity (GNU), writing of the draft constitution included, the referendum has uncharacteristically taken place way too soon.
Column by Brian Ngwenya
The result of this haste has been, as many commentaries have articulated, to flatly deny the majority of Zimbabweans adequate time to individually or collectively read, discuss and analyse, let alone access, the draft constitution before they can decide which way they will vote during the forthcoming plebiscite.
Admittedly, legal interpretation is one of the most daunting tasks ever presented to the human mind by himself. One needs not look further than the often contrasting presentations given by opposing lawyers in a court trial.
How worse can it get for a non-legal mind? The answers fall anywhere between layman understanding at best and, esoteric fly-pasts at the worst. However one looks at this matter, there was need to educate the majority of us on what exactly the constitution entails, or how this document will inform the crafting of the Acts that will form the laws of Zimbabwe.
The on-going outreach meetings are, quite frankly, a farce. They bundle enormous geographical spaces and their scheduling means reaching an agonisingly limited number of the electorate.
One wonders how or what our elderly citizens in the furthest corners of this country will be voting for.
Anyone with reasonable memory of the hustling and tussling that characterised the relationship of the parties in the GNU period should be pardoned for smelling a rat.
The two parties — Zanu PF and MDC-T — incessantly haggled over a number of matters arising out of both the Global Political Agreement (GPA) and the draft constitution until only recently when a deal was struck between Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, which agreement was, in all likelihood, a capitulation to Zanu PF’s electoral and, ultimately, political survival strategies.
The truth is that the bickering during the writing period was caused as much by ideological differences as by the political parties’ attempts to create a document that would help their electoral chances in the post-referendum period.
Under the prevailing conditions, a “yes” vote is most certainly going to prevail. A “yes” vote is also the quickest imaginable way to escape the GNU which no one within is still comfortable with. Both Zanu PF and the MDC-T are aware of all this.
The common thinking behind these two bickering-weary parties is that whatsoever party will win the elections will use its numbers in the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament to make the laws as they deem interpretable from the Constitution.
Each of the two parties also believes that they will emerge victorious.
It is with little wonder, therefore, that these two particular parties have been enthusiastically singing the same chorus, even to the confusion of the legions of their respective supporters.
For both parties, the referendum just has to go on whether or not it is bundled, even at the expense of the low level of comprehension among Zimbabwe’s citizens or the embarrassment caused by this moribund and sinecure plebiscite.
In essence, the hurried handling of the referendum is a gamble by both sides based on the assumption or belief that their respective parties will win the ensuing elections This having been said, the MDC-T’s gamble has a bigger margin of risk.
What seems to skip the attention of Tsvangirai’s party is that this bungled referendum is playing more to the advantage of Zanu PF than it is to their political alternatives. It’s a trap, pure and simple.
The hastened completion of the constitution has become Zanu PF’s red herring. It is, and surely will present Zanu PF with some kind of decoy to the completion of other important “outstanding” reforms which were agreed upon in the GPA. As soon as the new constitution is completed, final election dates will be set, and nigh.
Predictably, the MDCs parties will try to use everything they have in their arsenal to push for the other reforms which are vital for a free and fair election between the advent of the new constitution and election date. Time, though, is what they will not have.
Equally predictably, Zanu PF will return to its recalcitrance, its time-buying tactics and its habitual spanner-throwing until the election date.
Apart from their shared position on the referendum, albeit informed by conflicting interests, there is little else that binds the two parties to a purpose of the common good. It’s a tiny island of pacification in a sea of the all-too-common political troubles. Was it not only recently that the Zanu PF-dominated Senate thwarted efforts by Parliament to alter the Public Order and Security Act?
The MDC-T has recently been on record for stating, quite rightly so, that the leopard “does not change its spots”. Why then do they continue to hobble along with it while, in fact, submitting to its predatory political strategies?
There is not a single sign of the changing times in any of the State institutions that the MDCs have repeatedly accused of being partisan, or for their lawlessness. If the common ground were sincere one would have hoped for some omen of repositioning, some shifts responding to an imminent new disposition.
At present, there is none. There is nothing else to show for a people’s victory in a “yes” vote apart from a continuation of the haggling that we have become so accustomed to. What is perhaps worse is that the yes vote, at the time it is being scheduled, will only give Zanu PF more leverage in the ensuing elections. It’s a hoodwink. Period.
Brian Ngwenya is a PhD candidate and a political analyst based in Gweru