Is the New Dispensation keen on devolution?

COVID-19 tests u-turn
President Emmerson Mnangagwa

It should be recalled that the nationalist struggle’s main focus was the achievement of an electoral system with one person one vote as its basis and the resultant establishment of a newly independent unitary state

with strong centralised institutions of governance modelled on the British political system.

By Vivian Viyo Siziba

Neither devolution nor federalism or any other system of governance were ever considered in the discourse of the nationalist movement.

Only the late Chief Khayisa Ndiweni opined that federalism as a system of governance provided the best solution for the country

Unfortunately, his idea was shot down by the nationalists labelling him a divisive white man’s puppet.

It was common political practice that nationalist movements who negotiated for territorial independence quite often, settled for constitutional arrangements for their respective territories modelled on the systems of the former mother colonial powers.

Coloniality full time.

The celebrated example is the Lancaster House Constitution which ushered in a new statehood of the Republic of Zimbabwe.

The Constitution provided a bicameral chamber consisting of the Lower House, the House of Assembly resembling the House of Commons and the Upper House, the Senate with the inclusion of chiefs in its composition resembling the House of Lords’ hereditary complexion.

It further provided a ceremonial head of state, whose constitutional role was ceremonial like the British monarch.

However, sooner rather than later, these political arrangements were unceremoniously abandoned with most first African leaders of independent states adopting one party state political systems.

These new political developments were variously achieved by coercive and persuasive co-option of political opponents into the sole governing political parties.

In some situations, extreme repressive measures involving human rights abuses including long term imprisonment of political opponents became the order of the day.

The decimation of multi-party political activism came to finality by amendment or adoption of the country’s’ political charters, which outlawed opposition political parties.

The net legal effect was that the freedom of assembly under any political formation other than the ruling party was rendered a felony punishable by the courts.

Even though former President Robert Mugabe did not legislate for a one party state political system, Zimbabwe became a de facto one party state.

Instead of removing all draconian and repressive laws which restricted fundamental freedoms during colonial rule, Mugabe not only inherited them, but made sure that they were retained and used against former struggle colleagues, particularly members of the Zapu in the most brutal fashion ever witnessed in the history of humankind since World War 2.

What started off as general repressive measures against Zapu political opponents ended up assuming genocidal proportions directed against Ndebele speaking communities of Matabeleland and Midlands.

The whole motive was to ensure that there was insignificant or no opposition to Mugabe’s political moves to establish a one party state political system.

These human rights abuses only ceased when Joshua Nkomo agreed to merge Zapu with Zanu PF under the terms resembling that of a horse and rider.

Meanwhile, the Lancaster House Constitution was amended, a political move which saw the country progressively drift towards, not only an authoritarian, but a de facto one party state.

This amendment abolished the ceremonial president as the head of state, the Prime Minister as the country’s chief executive, the 20 seats reserved for whites and the Senate, the country’s second legislative chamber.

The legal consequence of these developments saw the establishment of an executive president with massive executive and legislative powers, which even allowed for the appointment of more than 20 non constituency Members of Parliament, and a unicameral legislative chamber.

These developments marked the beginning of a full-fledged authoritarian regime with the concentration of public power in the center of state political authority in the capital, thereby creating a powerful presidency and bureaucracy.

The net result of this saw the acquisition of licences either of liquor and other business enterprises being processed in the capital, even correction of minor errors on birth certificates were centralised, forcing people from regions to travel all the way to the capital.

Employment of public sector workers particularly civil servants such as teachers, nurses, office clerks and orderlies for any government department became highly centralised.

Nowhere is the practice more apparent than in Matabeleland.

Matabeleland is unique because of its diverse nature both in its multilingual and cultural backgrounds and needs special attention when it comes to recruitment of public duty office bearers by the Public Service.

However, the Public Service has been ignoring these unique features and continues to deploy primary school teachers and nurses who are not conversant with any one of the local languages in the region.

The circus around the recent recruitment of student nurses is illustrative of high levels of insensitivity by the Public Service or specifically the Health Services Board, which recruited nurse students to fill vacancies in nurse training schools around Matabeleland.

This obnoxious governance and a plethora of other grievances prompted the people of Matabeleland and other regions to lobby for a system of governance that would create an environment that would allow all citizens to participate in meaningful decision making with limited or no legal restrictions.

Devolution was then elected for that purpose and eventually found accommodation in the country’s supreme law, the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No.20) Act, 2013.

But consociational political democracy which frowns at the tyranny of the majority could have been the most appropriate for our political situation, the Swiss model in particular.

In this arrangement, not only decision making is based on consensus by representatives of political entities making up the Swiss Federal Authority, but the highest office in the land is rotational, no certain ethnic group is condemned to perpetual deputyship by reason of ethnic minority status.

Then what is devolution?

This word may have several meanings, but in our political context, would rather dwell on the definition provided by O.Hood Philips, in his book Constitutional and Administrative Law.

Devolution is described as delegation of central government powers to regions or provinces without relinquishing supremacy.

It goes on to say devolution may be administrative and legislative or both.

In other words, the national political regions conferred devolution would have legislative authority to make laws for the peace order and good government in their areas of political jurisdiction.

Suffice to say it is not enough to confer administrative devolution without legislative devolution, otherwise it sounds like an ocean without water.

There are practical situations where devolution has been quite successful, though it could not be all that satisfactory to the beneficiaries.

The United Kingdom embraced devolution by enacting the Scotland Act, the Northern Ireland Act, and the Wales Act in 1998.

These Acts delegated substantial central government powers to the countries which allowed them both legislative and executive autonomy in their areas of jurisdiction.

Of particular interest, is that there wasn’t a blanket piece of legislation that covered devolution in all territorial entities of the entire United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

This is attributable to the fact that cultural and historical background, economic and political conditions vary from territory to territory, hence, a specific Act of Parliament for each territorial entity.

The devolution conferred by the Scottish Act 1998, provided for an establishment of an elected Scottish Unicameral Legislative Chamber and the Scottish Executive now referred to as the Scottish government.

The members of the Scottish legislature are referred to as Scottish Members of Parliament (SMP).

The Act further conferred the following matters for the Scottish Legislative competence; education (primary and secondary and further and higher; local government; health; housing; criminal law; economic development etc.

In Zimbabwe, meaningful devolution could be achieved if the country reverts to its old political provinces that is Matabeleland, Mashonaland, Manicaland and Masvingo and Midlands.

This political move could be of immense political value to the populations of these provinces as far as delivery of public goods and services is concerned.

In this regard, special circumstances such as ethnic and linguistic issues, cultural diversity and economic potential and resources should be taken into consideration when devolving certain government functions to these provinces.

Manicaland, for instance, is rich in diamonds.

The contentious matter would be whether Manicaland should have exclusive legislative competence in mining of diamonds or concurrent responsibility with the central government.

Then Matabeleland provides a unique political scenario.

Its uniqueness stems from its multilingual and cultural diversity and apart from this, its massive economic potential that include tourism, wildlife, coal deposits, tonnes of gas and gold deposits and natural timber in Matabeleland North, while Matabeleland South, boasts of large deposits of gold, livestock production for beef, cement, the seasonal mopane worms.

Similarly, Masvingo boasts of livestock production, sugar cane and an array of strategic minerals as well.

A people oriented and caring government, after consultation with people in provinces could delegate a lot of government functions for the legislative competences of provincial assemblies/councils to allow them wide discretionary decision making on matters of economic development and provision of public services.

This resonates quite plausibly with the eas of doing business mantra.

The above narrative is merely to illustrate that a single blanket piece of legislation giving effect to devolution would not be adequate to address diverse devolution needs of each province.

Instead, a specific piece of legislation for each province would be ideal.

Well, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the central political authority surrenders everything to the provinces, but could have two or more state functions of a strategic nature preserved for its exclusive legislative competence.

As for matters like international relations, defence, monetary policy and possibly law and order, should be a national responsibility.

In any case, it is standard practice even in those most sophisticated political associations to place defence, international relations and monetary policy under exclusive legislative competence of the central authority.

Then, a million dollar question is; is the new dispensation keen to implement devolution?

Given the fact that Section 264 provides for devolution of central government powers and responsibilities to provinces, again the question is, are there any visible and tangible efforts towards achievement of devolution?

The answer is a huge “NO”.

According to Chapter 14 Sections 264-279, the Constitution obligates the government to take practical steps to set up devolution structures and regulate their functions and conduct through various pieces of legislation.

In effect, this chapter provides for three spheres or levels of government, the central, the provincial and local.

So far devolution features prominently in political rallies each time a government official commissions a completed project such as a footpath, it is pointed out that devolution made it possible.


How on earth does a structure with no legal existence complete a project?

These days, the Press is awash with the announcement of devolution funds being disbursed by the Treasury.

While it is commendable for the Treasury to disburse funds to local authorities, which are reeling under severe cash flow challenges, those financial disbursements should not be celebrated as devolution funds.

This is hogwash rhetoric designed to hoodwink the generality of the populace into believing that devolution is operational.

These are simply grants to local authorities that I last heard of during the colonial era.

It is common practice and natural constitutional obligation for any civilised regime to include in its annual budget appropriations, grants for national public institutions seized with delivery of public goods and services and also maintenance of national standards.

Once again, the new dispensation should not be applauded for this political effort.

The new dispensation seems not to have the political appetite for implementing devolution.

This is not surprising at all.

Zanu PF under Mugabe was fiercely opposed to devolution during the constitution making process.

The world over, authoritarian leaders are allergic to any form of politics of consociation.

But surprisingly, leaders frowning at such systems are beneficiaries of the same.

They loot from their respective countries’ state coffers and stash ill-gotten wealth in financial institutions of those states.

Then how does one trust a country that embraces a system of government that he doesn’t approve?


When the new dispensation set in, most people believed and hoped that devolution was to be implemented especially after the President declared that the days for Harare as “bambazonke” were over, and that bad things done in the past were to be left behind and that only good things were to be brought along in the new era, but of late, no practical and visible legal steps are being taken to implement devolution.

It is appreciated that budgetary constraints may be slowing down the pace on the implementation of devolution, but issuing of permits, licences etc. should be delegated to regions as a step towards decongesting of service provision from the capital.

People are now generally losing hope, particularly when one looks at the shenanigans surrounding recruitment of public servants in the education and health sectors, which continue unabated.

However, I should hasten to exclude the defence forces, the Zimbabwe National Army from the abominable exclusionist policy on recruitment of its service personnel pursued by the Public Service.

The new dispensation should walk the talk and take practical and visible steps in implementing this constitutional obligation, which is supposed to address political and economic marginalisation of the country’s regions.

While it is appreciated that devolution may not be implemented at the pace desired by the populace of this country, possibly due to budgetary constraints, it is the expectations of the nation that at least there should be tangible efforts which indicate the steady progress towards the implementation of this national agenda.

Recruitment of public service employees should be delegated to provincial and district offices particularly, teachers, nurses, police officers and other public sector workers.

Issuance of business permits, licences and other public service provisions at provincial capitals and district offices, taking on board locals as beneficiaries, should be indicators that the government is committed to devolution.

Vivian V.Siziba writes in his personal capacity


  1. Save/Siziba Magonesa your observation and analysis is great. They are three major issues you mentioned (a) you constructively criticised the current situation obtaining, (b) you sited good examples in the world for us to copy and (c) You gave us how it can be achieved without fear or favour. Are our leaders deaf to reason or they do not care.

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