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About time recall clause is amended

Opinion & Analysis
Sengezo Tshabangu, the self-proclaimed CCC interim secretary-general, recalled 18 more Members of Parliament (MPs), mayors and councillors as the battle for the soul of the opposition continues to rage.

EVENTS in the main opposition, Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), this week further demonstrated how the party is fractured and trying hard to survive and offer hope to all citizens who have been yearning for change in the last quarter century. It is time the Constitution is amended.

Sengezo Tshabangu, the self-proclaimed CCC interim secretary-general, recalled 18 more Members of Parliament (MPs), mayors and councillors as the battle for the soul of the opposition continues to rage.

Among the recalled MPs are Amos Chibaya (Mkoba) and Gift Siziba (Pelandaba-Tshabalala) and mayors Ian Makone (Harare), Henry Madzorera (Kwekwe) and Shantel Chiwara (Masvingo).

While Parliament may technically continue to function, the recall of mayors has an implication in service delivery. In reality, recalls keep the nation in a perpetual election mode — itself an anathema to development unless if you are Israel.

I know bringing in Israel is a digression, but it is important to note that it is one of the few countries which conduct a general election roughly every two and half years because the fragile coalition governments collapse.

However, its economy remains resilient despite the never-ending short election cycles.

Let us look briefly at the recall clause as contained in Section 129(1)(k) in the Constitution. It reads: “If the member has ceased to belong to the political party of which he or she was a member when elected to Parliament and the political party concerned, by written notice to the Speaker or the President of the Senate, as the case may be, has declared that the member has ceased to belong to it.”

Our courts have long interpreted that the clause literally means what it says and the Speaker of Parliament or President of the Senate have to act after satisfying themselves that the letter is genuine.

Probably we need to understand the genesis of the clause since 1980 when Zimbabwe had a Westminster parliamentary system as practiced in the United Kingdom. An elected MP serves their term unless they resign; they cannot be recalled by their sponsoring party.

The late former President Robert Mugabe made the law. He was bitter with Edgar Tekere after he opposed the one-party State that Zanu PF was bent on introducing in 1989. It actually became known as the “Tekere clause”. It is easy to draw the conclusion that the clause was introduced to punish members who fail to toe the party line.

However, it remains a fact that Zanu PF has used it sparingly until the height of the G40 factionalism and the subsequent coup in 2017. Worryingly, post 2000 the opposition has resorted to the clause more than Zanu PF.

Morgan Tsvangirai used it to silence Munyaradzi Gwisai over the land issue. After that, every MDC member knew that it was Tsvangirai’s way or the highway.

In 2014, MDC-T used it against the “rebels” Tendai Biti and others, forcing a mini-general election.

The trend did not stop and reappeared after Tsvangirai’s demise in 2018 when Thokozani Khupe and others were recalled less than eight months to a general election.

After the Supreme Court 2021 ruling on who was the legitimate leader of the opposition, Douglas Mwonzora recalled 22 MPs, forcing another mini-general election.

This brings us to the current recalls by Tshabangu. There is acrimony in the opposition camp again and Tshabangu is flexing his “powers” through the reign of terror.

When it comes to local government, the recalls have cost CCC its potentially best mayors since 2000 in Makone and Madzorera.

They are a tried and tested duo who have a track record in private life and were ploughing back to their communities.

It remains to be seen who will take over and will they enjoy the support of all the stakeholders.

It is also a lost opportunity for CCC in showing their administrative capabilities and its readiness to be the next government.

As things stand, even if it were to come to power tomorrow it will struggle to find a dozen people who are ready from day one to be Cabinet ministers, with requisite competencies and experience.

What can be the way forward?

It is a fact that the 2013 Constitution was a golden opportunity to turn back to Westminster style.

However, political leaders from across the political divide wanted power to control their party members, hence it was retained on the statutes.

In that vein, we have noticed that recalls are not only disruptive, but they cost money and keep Zimbabwe in a perpetual election mode to the detriment of the nation.

There are two possible ways to cure this. The first is to amend section 129(1)(k) and make it more cumbersome in recalling MPs.

The second is to change our electoral laws to a 100% proportional representation system.

This system, while disruptive, is not costly to the Treasury as no by-elections will be held as a party replaces its recalled MPs. South Africa uses the same system, as an example.

However, both propositions need the buy-in of political parties. They need leaders who are open-minded and are aware that leadership is just a turn to lead and others can do the job if they are not there.

I concede, Zimbabwe is still far from that, but the proportional representation option is more plausible at the moment, since our leaders need power although they already appear drunk with power.

The Tshabangu scenario is a blessing in disguise. It can give momentum to the changes we need in our laws — the electoral system and what a party is and how it should operate at minimum.

These discussions could be emotive but are necessary in a democracy and the promotion of transparency and accountability.

There is only but one thing — the laws should change. However, it is dependent on our political parties and their leaders whether they are ready to bite the bullet and effect the necessary changes as I suggested or anything that brings stability and saves money?

Paidamoyo Muzulu is a journalist based in Harare. He writes here in his personal capacity.

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