Zimbabwe: Africa Action report - The 2009 People's Constitutional Convention

Africa Action's input to the convention was guided by the conviction that the people of Zimbabwe deserve a home-grown, democratic constitution that is generated through meaningful people participation and is truly reflective of the aspirations of the people of Zimbabwe.


Africa Action was invited to participate in the People's Constitutional Convention organized by the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and the National Alliance for NGOs (NANGO), July 3rd and 4th, 2009 in Harare. More than 2,000 activists from 234 civic groups convened to discuss and to map out civil society's engagement in creating a new constitution for Zimbabwe. The Global Political Agreement that gave birth to Zimbabwe's Inclusive Government stipulates that the country must have a new constitution by August 2010. Fresh elections will be held once complete. The Inclusive Government has already launched the process of making a new constitution under the leadership of a select committee of parliament.

The stated goals of the convention were to:

1. Generate a clear and shared understanding of the history, current state and context within which the constitutional reform discourse and process is taking place.

2. Make clear demands on the imperatives for a positive, progressive and democratic constitution making process in Zimbabwe.

3. Adopt sector specific and general principles on constitutionalism (process and content).

4. Develop collective and sector specific action plans prior to decisive processes that are part of the constitutional reform process.

In contributing to the Convention, Africa Action saluted the diverse range of Zimbabwe's civil society (trade unions, students, women's groups, faith, etc.) for keeping alive the hope for democracy and good governance in the face of serious repression. Africa Action pledges solidarity to the people of Zimbabwe on this crucial path towards a free and just Zimbabwe as they embark on the sacred task of making a new constitution for the country. In our assessment, we believe that the reason the people of Zimbabwe survived the darkest nights of repression over the last ten years is due primarily to the dynamism and steadfast determination of Zimbabwe's civil society and the inspiring regional and international advocacy and solidarity that has supported the people of Zimbabwe over the years. In the true spirit of this international people to people solidarity, we commit to accompany the people of Zimbabwe until genuine democracy and social justice is achieved.

While encouraged by the unanimity of Zimbabwe's civil society and political players on the need for a democratic constitution, Africa Action recognizes that such a profound process is bound to generate intense debate and even divisions and encourages Zimbabwe's civil society to find common ground because there is strength in unity!

The need for a new constitution is not recent in Zimbabwe, it is one of the long outstanding tasks of the transitions from colonial rule to an independent and democratic government. It is worth recalling that Zimbabwe has been ruled since its independence in 1980 under the Lancaster House constitution, which was drafted in London essentially as a ceasefire document between nationalist freedom fighters and the minority Rhodesian government of Ian Smith.

As a boardroom compromise document, the Lancaster House constitution does not reflect the democratic aspirations of the people of Zimbabwe.

There have been 19 amendments to the Lancaster House constitution since independence in 1980, none of which have involved a referendum or any form of direct popular participation.

The lack of a democratic constitution is at the heart of Zimbabwe's governance and human rights problems. In the absence of a democratic constitutional framework, sacrosanct processes, such as elections, law enforcement, and governance have become a mockery of justice.

Africa Action believes that a constitution, as a foundational document governing society must be an incorruptible charter for good governance, economic fairness and social justice.

1. A Free Political Environment

Bearing in mind Zimbabwe's history of political repression, Africa Action is calling for a political environment that allows for citizens' free participation in the constitution making process. The people's freedom of assembly and expression, as well as freedom after assembly and expression, are crucial for free participation in this process. Zimbabwe's Inclusive Government must guarantee these freedoms for meaningful people's involvement. Accordingly, we call for the Zimbabwean authorities to immediately repeal draconian legislation that hinders the freedom of assembly and expression - in particular the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). These laws have been used repeatedly to harass democratic actors and restrict democratic space in Zimbabwe.

In addition, press freedom must be guaranteed so that people have access to information and different points of views.

Further, Zimbabwe security forces-who have been very partisan in the past, must behave in a professional, transparent and accountable manner. There must be no hindrance to civic groups and activists conducting civic education and mobilizing in communities around the country. The constitution debate is already inspiring intense passions and clashes between different groups have been reported, the police must guarantee security to those peacefully engaging the process and bring to justice those bent on violence and intimidation regardless of political affiliation.

2. A People Driven Process

The process of making a democratic constitution must be truly consultative, inclusive and people driven. We urge the Zimbabwean authorities to take extra care to ensure the participation of all stakeholders with particular attention to groups that are usually marginalized-people with disabilities, women and young people. Consultative meetings and thematic committees must be representative of all stakeholders. With at least 4 million Zimbabweans in the Diaspora, the need to involve this section of Zimbabwe's population cannot be over-emphasized.

At some of the provincial consultative meetings conducted by the Select Committee that we observed, discussions degenerated into shouting matches because of partisan comments by facilitators. It is important, therefore, for those tasked with facilitating national, provincial and ward consultative meetings to leave party politics outside the door.

Judging from observations from the provincial meetings it is clear that attention needs to be paid to simple logistical issues such as translation, sign language, Braille, wheelchair access, and other logistical considerations for differently abled people.

3. A Democratic Content

It is absolutely crucial that the content of the constitution emerging from this process be truly reflective of the aspirations of the people of Zimbabwe and in line with internationally accepted democratic and human rights standards. At the very least, the new constitution must enshrine fundamental civil liberties and socio-economic rights in a justiceable and enforceable manner, as has been the call from Zimbabwean civil society for a long time. At the center of Zimbabwe's governance crisis is the imperial executive presidency with unlimited powers created by the 1987 Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No.7). Civil society has been very vocal in demanding a limitation of executive powers and a clear separation of powers between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. This must be enshrined in the new constitution. Finally, it is important for all stakeholders to have sufficient time to review, discuss and give feedback on content before going to the referendum.

4. A Free and Fair Referendum

The Global Political Agreement which gave birth to Zimbabwe's Inclusive Government states that the draft new constitution will be taken before a national referendum where people will either vote yes (to adopt) or no (to reject) the constitution. This referendum, slated for July 2010, will be absolutely crucial in determining where the people of Zimbabwe stand; it must be free and fair. The Zimbabwean authorities, the Southern African Development Community and the African Union - as guarantors to the Global Political Agreement, must guarantee not only a free and fair referendum but acceptance by all of the democratic outcome of the referendum.

To ensure a free and fair referendum, it will be crucial to have an independent elections body conducting the referendum and local, regional and international observers monitoring the process. Stakeholders must freely campaign for their positions and the people must be allowed to freely decide.

The last time Zimbabwe held a referendum on a new constitution in 2000, war veterans and Zanu PF supporters resorted to horrific violence targeting white commercial farmers and opposition supporters after losing the referendum. Recourse to violence and targeting sections of Zimbabwe's population must not be allowed and systems need to be put in place now to ensure that such acts do not happen again.


Africa Action associates itself with the 2009 People's Constitutional Convention Declaration and will be working with Zimbabwe civil society partners to monitor closely and report on the constitutional reform process with a particular focus on the above mentioned benchmarks.

Zimbabwe is at a critical juncture characterized by a fragile transition that can go either way. There is real hope that with a democratic constitution and free and fair elections afterwards Zimbabwe can move into an era of democratic governance, economic security and social justice. The alternative is that the delicate transitional arrangement can breakdown, reversing the few democratic gains made since the formation of the inclusive government, and potentially plunging the country into political instability and economic ruin.

Political stabilization and democratic consolidation in Zimbabwe depends a lot on economic recovery. The U.S. government and other international players can play a key role by targeting economic support to communities especially rural farmers and by supporting economic recovery efforts led by democratic actors in the Inclusive Government.