THE 7th Zanu PF National Congress held in Harare a fortnight ago saw the party introduce amendments to its constitution, igniting a debate on the importance of a governance charter in political parties.
Former Zanu PF national secretary for legal affairs Paul Mangwana presented amendments to the congress while national chairperson Oppah Muchinguri announced the adoption of the changes.
Mangwana told the Zimbabwe Independent last week that the amendments to the ruling party constitution were necessary in ensuring good governance.
However, the amendments drew competing reactions among political observers with some saying the move was “cosmetic”, while others noted that President Emmerson Mnangagwa was firmly solidifying his position.
Others also lauded Zanu PF for keeping its constitution dynamic, making sure that its supporters understand how the party is governed.
There is another school of thought which suggests that the latest amendments by Zanu PF were a challenge to other political parties to put into practice constitutionalism.
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“As far as I can see, these are cosmetic and presentational changes. No sweeping changes of power structure seem to be involved,” University of London Professor of Politics Stephen Chan said.
Political analyst Alexander Rusero concurred with Chan, saying it could be more beneficial if the amendments were done to build the party rather than consolidate Mnangagwa’s imperial power.
“I think the Zanu PF constitution has not changed. It has also not been tinkered, at least, from a constitutionalism point of view,” Rusero said. “You must reckon that Mnangagwa has been a victim of the Zanu PF constitution. I think there are certain things that are now captured like the provision of a woman vice president.
“I see a constitutional amendment that has been made clear in as much as issues to do with power distribution is concerned. It is crafted in such a way that I foresee a constitution that is written with the post-Mnangagwa era in mind and not necessarily power consolidation.”
A major amendment to the constitution was the provision for a female member of the presidium and the inclusion of a national chairperson into the top four of the party.
The national secretary for administration will be the secretary to the praesidium.
An amendment to Article 5 (6) indicates that “there shall be a presidium, of four members at least one of whom shall be a woman, consisting of the president and first secretary, two vice presidents and second secretaries and the national chairperson”.
This, according to observers, protects the status quo especially positions held by vice-presidents Constantino Chiwenga and Kembo Mohadi.
Another amendment includes the need for the secretary of administration to give a 14-day notice to convene an extraordinary session of congress in case of a vacancy for the national president.
Changes, including new departments, were included in the amendments amid reports that Mnangagwa was likely to introduce new faces and technocrats into the politburo.
The new departments include war veterans, lands and agriculture, business and development, local governance, devolution and housing; and ideology and heritage training.
The new departments are part of Zanu PF moves to ensure they reflect appointments at cabinet level for oversight purporses, in case the party retains state power.
The amendments cemented the incorporation of the war veterans’ league into Zanu PF structures while also re-introducing district co-ordinating committees (DCCs).
The DCCs were abolished during the Zanu PF fights to replace Mugabe when it was believed that the Joice Mujuru faction, then known as Gamatox, was in control of critical structures prior to 2014.
DCCs were a source of conflict in the internal polls last year before the election of central committee members.
The amendments also formally incorporated the council of elders, associate members and diaspora districts.
The council of elders would comprise former presidents while Mnangagwa has the discretion to appoint other members from former members of the presidium and politburo “on account of their probity”.
The provision for associate members endorses structures such as YoungWomen4ED, YoungFarmers4ED, Varakashi4ED, Miners4ED, Teachers4ED and several others that continue to emerge as Zanu PF braces for a bruising contest in the 2023 harmonised elections.
The associate members are entitled to attend meetings as provided in the party with the rights to debate and make recommendations and enjoy the same protection as active members.
Rusero argued that constitutions, from a Marxist view, were documents written to prolong the people in power’s stay on top.
“Constitutions are instruments that the elite use to oppress the rest. So, every leader would need that kind of access to a constitution and panel beat it in such a way that his or her power base is consolidated and solidified,” he argued further.
Rusero also applauded Zanu PF for making sure they have a structural document in the form of their constitution which is also public.
“There is a difference between what is happening in the opposition parties. We don’t know whether constitutions exist or not. Even during the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) which was led by the late Morgan Tsvangirai, the constitution was not in the public domain like the Zanu PF document.
“Then the question is; would you choose a party with a constitution that spells out how its power is shared even in mediocre or dismal ways or a party that operates as a secret society?” Rusero queried.
He challenged parties in Zimbabwe to be open in their structures and policies for them to gain favour with the electorate.
United Kingdom-based Zanu PF activist and constitutional lawyer Masimba Mavaza said: “Amendments are often interwoven into the relevant sections of an existing constitution, directly altering the text. Conversely, they can be appended to the constitution as supplemental additions (codicils), thus changing the frame of government without altering the existing text of the document.”
He dismissed arguments that Mnangagwa had influenced the amendments to the Zanu PF constitution at his whim.