On Wednesday, 22 May 2013, President Robert Mugabe signed into law constitutional amendment number 20 and like the old Constitution adopted at independence in 1980, a lot is expected, but in reality the optimism that a constitution on its own can deliver peace, prosperity and economic development will never last unless citizens become vigilant in the protection and promotion of the values underpinning any constitutional order.
Mutumwa on Tuesday with Mutumwa Mawere
In 1980, on the eve of Zimbabwe’s independence, Mugabe correctly observed that: “The final countdown before the launching of the new State of Zimbabwe has now begun. Only a few hours from now, Zimbabwe will have become a free, independent and sovereign state, free to choose its own flight path and chart its own course to its chosen destiny. Its people have made a democratic choice of those who as their legitimate Government, they wish to govern them and take policy decisions as to their future.”
After 19 amendments to the constitution and 33 years later, the people who voted for the adoption of the 20th constitutional amendment must have understood that freedom, independence and sovereignty that the first constitution promised are yet to be delivered.
In voting for a new constitution, many naively believe that the vices of the past 33 years will evaporate merely by gazetting into law the new constitution.
Now that the amendment is the latest first law of Zimbabwe, can one safely conclude that the future will be more secure than the past has been?
In celebrating the ushering of the new constitution, some see this development as a rejection of Mugabe’s rule while others see it as a panacea to Zimbabwe’s political and economic challenges.
The late Vice-President John Nkomo, whose lasting legacy will always be the words: “peace begins with me, with you and the rest of us”, was correct that no peace will endure if it is not owned by the people who cherish it. The constitution will never bring peace and food to the table. I concur with the observation that governments do not exist but people do. Organised people have the power to manage even dictators but disorganised people encourage dictatorship.
The ultimate organisation is expressed through voting and vigilance in between elections yet many people take the power of the electoral process to produce the reforms they seek lightly.
The inclusive government has been in office for five years and the fact that the election date has not yet to be announced speaks volumes about its failure to keep to the people’s timetable.
Mugabe’s views on the tenure of the inclusive government and what should happen after June 29, 2013 have to be understood in the context of his commitment to constitutionalism.
Some may doubt his commitment, but history will always be on his side that he has never sought to extend his hold to power without validating such choice from the people in whom the power to govern is and ought to be truly vested.
The people voted the current administration into office in 2008 and the expiry of the mandate in terms of the old constitution cannot be extended and any such extension will not be supported by any real constitutional and legal legitimacy.
Mugabe is a candidate of his party and one must accept that in Zanu PF there is no other contender for the top post.
The record shows that within the party, the notion of term limits does not exist as it is the case that when confronted with a choice, members of the party have always agreed that the party is safer under his watch than that of anyone else.
He has kept the party relevant and in State office for the last 33 years. With that kind of track record, it is not surprising that some feel that he was God-sent.
Inherent in the new Constitution is a belief that term limits are constitutional which would suggest that anyone, including Mugabe, who has served more than two terms will not be electable.
However, in deciding to limit the terms of the President, the people of Zimbabwe must have internalised some of the lessons of the past 33 years that the State itself can easily be converted into a person and the resources of the people can be used for political expediency.
Some parties have sought to protect incumbent players by choosing to avoid primaries at this historic hour in Zimbabwe’s constitutional history.
To the extent that democratic participation can be suspended to suit the political ambitions of incumbents, it becomes important to pause and reflect on whether these new players will in future be restrained from seeking to extend their incumbency by undermining the very values that people are now celebrating as having been put into life by the new constitution.
There have been suggestions that in terms of the new constitution, there is a window for the extension of the tenure of the Executive for four months and, therefore, such window must be taken advantage of.
The current cabinet is drawn from parliament and if it is the case that the life of parliament comes to an end on June 29, 2013, then what is to happen to cabinet members who are also legislators?
It would seem that contrary to the mandate given by the people, the tail-end of this administration may very well be characterised by an absence of the kind of checks and balances that are peremptory in the context of the new culture that the new constitution promises.
The real promise of the constitution is that the authority and legitimacy of the government must be drawn from the will of the people and not from deals negotiated by a few wise men and women based on an expiring and expired mandate.
The new amendment is not cast in stone as has been shown by the last 19 amendments. It may very well be the case that if a party wins the required threshold to change the constitution, the celebration that accompanied the ushering in of the new constitution will be short-lived.
Zimbabweans are not alone in having differing opinions and view about how political should be distributed and how their government should be structured.
Independence promised that people would ultimately govern indirectly through the people chosen to represent them in the State.
However, the representatives of the people in the State have shown across the political divide that the people are mere weapons in the greed, ego and arrogance battles that life exposes people to.
The views of the people are only convenient if they are in line with those of the governors.
Even though Zimbabwe has been independence for 33 years, neither its leaders not citizens agree on the flight path and the course to a defined destination.
The disagreements that define the character and personality of Zimbabwe largely reflect the hostilities between the political actors.
If for instance, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his party win the elections, there is no doubt that Mugabe and his party will not agree with the result.
The two elephants must necessarily be happy with the outcome for Zimbabwe to move forward peacefully. That is the tragedy that Zimbabwe finds itself in.
If the last 5 years have not produced cohesion and shared values, will the election result bring them together? The new constitution will not make the players like each other.
Mugabe genuinely believes that Tsvangirai is not fit to govern a revolutionary state and equally the Prime Minister believes that Mugabe’s shelf life has expired.
What then is the responsibility of the voters? The voters can take the easy road of blaming the two actors but ultimately it is not the future of the two esteemed gentlemen that is at stake.
People who care about their future have to do something today to secure it yet when it comes to political participation, it is often the case that it is not the effort of the leaders to remain and acquire power but the inaction of the very people who want a better and brighter future.
The various constitutional amendments represent attempts to establish a basic blueprint for the establishment and operation of the government, but regrettably the new amendment goes a long way towards confirming that this has not been an easy task.
The acceptance of a constitution as a guiding set of principles and values has so far eluded Zimbabwe as leaders have felt free to disobey and suspend constitutional principles at will.
The attempt to arrogate the powers of State beyond the constitutional life of the current administration is just another attempt to demonstrate that the constitution does not matter.
What is known is that the time left to the expiry of the current government is not sufficient to bring into life the reforms necessary for the will of the people to be freely expressed.
In the circumstances, one may argue that the only rational response is for an interim administration to be appointed that will overseas the period to elections but given the characters involved this option is not realistic.
Zimbabwe is a relatively young nation but the task of establishing the government’s legitimacy remains a challenging one. Its history is full of examples of unconstitutional behaviour and choices.
The enthusiasm that has accompanied this constitutional amendment more than the other 19 exposes the legitimacy problems of the post-colonial administration including the inclusive government.
Citizens have little or no trust in their leaders’ abilities to run an efficient or trustworthy state.
There can be no doubt that President Mugabe as a person believes in constitutionalism but his administration stands accused of undermining the very principles that he holds dear.
Having stayed in power for so long, he will be the last to know the true nature in which his administration impacts on citizens’ life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.