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‘New constitution without constitutionalism is not enough’


CONSTITUTIONAL experts yesterday hailed the adoption of a new constitution, but warned that the document could be rendered a paper tiger in the absence of a culture of constitutionalism.

Report by Dumisani Sibanda

President Robert Mugabe yesterday signed the constitution into law at a historic ceremony held at State House in Harare.

“Obviously this constitution is better than the one we had (Lancaster House Constitution),” said Greg Linington, a constitutional lawyer and law lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe.

“It has aspects that deal with respect for the rule of law. This is an important thing. But then it is just a piece of paper – there is need for the will to uphold the constitution. We should have constitutionalism rooted in our society. For example, although in the old constitution we had provision for the independence of the judiciary, we saw some judges being forced off the bench. They had to resign,” Linington said.

He said it was good that a two-thirds majority was needed to amend the constitution adding it would be healthy if the current situation in Parliament where no party has a two-thirds majority would persist unlike the case before the 2000 elections where Zanu PF had more than two-thirds that was required to change the charter.

“What we will now need to do is to cultivate a culture of constitutionalism by teaching aspects of the constitution at our schools. We should also start by observing the constitutions of the various bodies that we belong to.”

Human rights lawyer and Education minister David Coltart said the adoption of the constitution was a historic event.

“It is significant in that for the first time Zimbabweans sat down peacefully to agree on this basic law, which is different from the Lancaster House Constitution which was thrust on us,” he said.

“It has its flaws, but it has significant provisions like the Bill of Rights which has guarantees for a number of important freedoms like freedom of expression. However, the signing of the document into law is just the first step. What is needed is for all Zimbabweans is to embrace the constitution.

“Political leaders should respect the constitution in letter and spirit. Otherwise it will remain a body of words without life. Just having a constitution with good provisions is not a guarantee for constitutional democracy. The Soviet Union had a good Bill of Rights, but it was useless because it was not respected.”

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