Back to Top

Referendum and the Draft Constitution - via Veritas

The draft new constitution that will be put to a Referendum was gazetted on 15th February.

The draft, together with COPAC's report, was presented to Parliament on 6th February in accordance with COPAC's obligation under article 6.1(a)(v) of the Global Political Agreement [GPA] to "report to Parliament on its recommendations over the content of a New Constitution for Zimbabwe". The proceedings in Parliament were concluded on 7th February, with both Houses having accepted both the report and the recommended draft constitution.

This paved the way for the next stage in the constitution-making process: the holding of the Referendum at which voters will decide whether or not the draft constitution should be adopted as the new Constitution of Zimbabwe.

Shock Decision to Proclaim Referendum on 16th March

The surprise decision to have the Referendum on 16th March was announced by the Minister of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs on 13th February. The confirmation of this date by a proclamation, signed by President Mugabe on 14th and gazetted on 15th March, has left many Zimbabweans reeling in shock and disbelief."

Article 6.1.(c)(xiii) of the GPA lays down that a Referendum must be held "within three months of the conclusion of the debate”. This clearly indicates that there must be adequate time for the people to study and consider the draft before answering the momentous question whether or not they want the draft constitution to replace the present constitution. It is essential that voters have a sufficient period within which to make an informed decision on whether to vote Yes or No or, perhaps, to abstain. And to make an informed decision, voters will need to have access to the draft in a language they understand and time to study it and to listen, not only to COPAC'S planned explanation of the draft, but also to the views of civil society organisations and all political parties, especially those left out of the constitution making-process."

Too little time for the people to study the draft for the new Constitution of Zimbabwe, on which they have to vote in the Referendum, gives rise to the risk that the Referendum result will not be accepted as a genuine reflection of the people's wishes, but rather dismissed as the result of obedient masses rubber-stamping the instructions of political demagogues.

Why the 16th March is Totally Unreasonable

Many factors justify the complaint that the 16th March is much too early to hold the Referendum. They can be summed up as:

  • Referendums Act and regulations need to be aligned to the amended Electoral Act
  • ZEC have said they need at least two months' notice to organise the Referendum properly. ZEC is still without a Chairperson, and the finance for the Referendum has not been made available.
  • The people will not have enough time to learn about the draft constitution before voting on it – which runs counter to all the politicians' fine talk about respecting and empowering the people and promoting a culture of constitutionalism
  • Civil society, on whom much of the burden of informing and educating the people rests [as COPAC and Ministry of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs plans to inform the people are not only not adequate but driven by party political and not a national agenda] are outraged at the short notice – they need more time to be able fulfil their obligations to their constituencies as they would wish to.

(see full details on these points later in post)

Timing Could Still be Changed

There is no legal obstacle to changing the date to allow a more reasonable length of time for people to consider the draft and how to cast their vote. All that is needed is an amending Proclamation [section 21 of the Interpretation Act states that a power to make a statutory instrument includes the power to amend it]. The case for a later Referendum date is strong."

Why the 16th March Referendum Date is Totally Unreasonable

Referendums Act and regulations out of date

The Referendums Act and its regulations still need to be updated, to bring them into line with last year’s amendments to the Electoral Act, which were the product of agreement between the GPA parties [more detail on this in Part II].  The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission [ZEC] has been working on, but has not finalised, its draft regulations and then they will have to go through the Minister of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs for approval before they can be gazetted.

ZEC not consulted about date and not ready

ZEC was not consulted before the 16th March was decided on.  ZEC members and staff only learned about the date unofficially or from the press.  It is astonishing that a date has been fixed without considering whether or not the body responsible for the Referendum will be able to do what is necessary within the period allowed.  Had those making the decision forgotten – or not been told – that ZEC has consistently said it needs 60 days lead time before polling if they are to conduct a credible poll?  Minister Matinenga’s statement when announcing the date and the impending proclamation made it clear that, as Minister responsible for the Referendums Act, he thought a later date than 16th March was advisable. 

ZEC without chairperson 

ZEC’s chairperson since it was appointed in 2010, Justice Mtambanengwe, resigned suddenly on 12th February.  The appointment of a replacement requires prior consultation with the Parliamentary Committee on Standing Rules and Orders and the Judicial Service Commission, something that cannot be done in only a few days.  The lack of a substantive chairperson is a serious handicap for ZEC.  Even if a new chairperson can be speedily appointed, two or three weeks will not be enough for him or her to master the job in time to play a meaningful and effective part in managing a Referendum held on 16th March.

[Note: The current Acting Chairperson, long-serving and experienced Commissioner Joyce Kazembe, cannot be appointed as chairperson, because she does not have the qualifications required by the Constitution – she is neither a judge or former judge, nor qualified to be a judge.]

Finance promised – but not available yet

Not the least of ZEC’s difficulties is funding.  The Government is responsible for funding ZEC, but Minister of Finance Biti has said all along that the Government does not have the necessary resources and will require outside assistance.  Although the donor community has promised funding in principle, donors have queried the ZEC budget and have not yet released any funds.  [It has been pointed out that in Kenya, with a population nearly four times Zimbabwe’s, the 2010 constitutional referendum cost $300 million, and the amount ZEC has sought for our referendum is $250 million].  Donors may be reluctant to fund a process that is not only grossly over budgeted, but, in view of the short time given to study it, cannot be seen as a genuine attempt to ascertain what the people really think about a draft constitution that is claimed to have been people-driven.  The crisis over funding is underlined by a report in yesterday’s State-controlled Sunday Mail  of an announcement by Presidential spokesman George Charamba that the principals have now authorised Deputy Prime Minister Mutambara to spearhead an initiative to raise the entire $250 million locally.  How can ZEC be expected to make satisfactory arrangements against this background?

ZEC’s other pre-polling needs

Need to hire temporary polling station staff  If ZEC cannot be confident about the funding of the Referendum, it is likely to have problems recruiting the thousands of reliable individuals it will need to hire as temporary staff to actually run things on the ground at polling stations.  At election time the custom has been for the electoral authorities to use civil servants and teachers, meaning there is a body of individuals relatively experienced in polling station routines.  But those individuals will want meaningful assurances about their allowances for this special assignment, and will be very conscious of the Government’s miserable record over payment of allowances to temporary staff taken on for previous elections and for the 2012 National Census.  They have a recent precedent in the concerns over allowances expressed by MPs asked to assist COPAC in explaining the draft constitution to their constituents. 

Clash with school term  16th March falls within the first school term.  So a Referendum on that day would be likely to cause further disruption in an already troubled education system.  School premises round the country are customarily used to house polling stations and although polling day may be a Saturday, the absence of teachers for pre-poll training and the setting-up of polling stations ahead of polling day would inevitably disrupt teaching duties. 

COPAC and Ministry outreach exercises not off the ground

COPAC’s promised outreach exercise will only start today.  It is printing only 70 000 copies of the draft for the whole country.  Its promised translations of the draft into eleven indigenous languages and into Braille are not yet ready and are still to be produced and distributed.  The Ministry of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs has announced that it will conduct a mere two “advocacy meetings” on the draft in each of the country’s ten provinces. 

Importance of Accommodating ZEC

The Referendum will be the first countrywide voting process to be conducted by ZEC since it was set up as a constitutional commission in early 2010.  ZEC must be given every chance to run the Referendum well to enable it to build up experience and establish its credibility as an independent and impartial body.  Any mistakes or inadequacies in the Referendum process will affect ZEC‘s credibility and reflect adversely on its capacity to handle its next big test, which will be the coming elections.  To handicap ZEC by requiring it to conduct an acceptable Referendum exercise in less than half the time it has said it needs, is to run the risk of a botched process – and to imperil the chances of an election result that will be widely accepted later in the year.

Civil Society Objections

The Prime Minister told a meeting of civil society organisations earlier in the week that the Referendum would be “at the end of March”.  The organisations were unanimous in their objections, stressing the need to allow voters sufficient time for proper consideration of the draft in order to reach an informed decision, and the danger that any semblance of bulldozing would destroy the credibility of the Referendum result.  The Prime Minister said representations for an extension might persuade the principals to allow more time for activities to familiarise voters with the draft constitution.  It should also be remembered that Minister Matinenga said on 13th March that the 16th was a “tentative” date.

National Constitutional Assembly [NCA]  The NCA said early on that it would go to court unless a period of two months was allowed before voting in the Referendum.  As soon as the Government Gazette was released on 15th February  NCA chairperson Lovemore Madhuku, who had already condemned the 16th March date as “nonsense” and “meaningless”, confirmed that NCA lawyers had been instructed to go ahead with the organisation’s High Court case to overturn the Referendum proclamation for unreasonableness; the papers would probably be filed today, Monday 18th February.   

Zimbabwe Election Support Network [ZESN]  A respected organisation with years of experience in observing elections in Zimbabwe and other countries, ZESN said in an official statement that the fixing of so early a date “raises serious concerns about citizens having a meaningful opportunity to learn about the draft constitution and to make an informed choice. The date also raises questions about the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) having sufficient time to organize a credible referendum consistent with laws of Zimbabwe as well as Southern African Development Community (SADC) and international principles and guidelines”.  The statement also stresses the need for the speedy appointment of a credible ZEC chairperson.  [Full statement available from info@zesn.org.zw or veritas@mango.zw.] 

Other major civil society networks and coalitions such as NANGO and Crisis Coalition representing most of the civil society organisations involved in educating the people about the constitution, have also said that 16th March is much too early.  It takes money and organisation to reach   constituents in rural areas, police notification permission has to be obtained, etc.  And they have a big job to do unpacking the draft for the people, as the COPAC and Ministry initiatives are inadequate.

Note:  In Kenya the voters had  four full months to consider the draft constitution before voting on it at the Referendum held in August 2010.

Is the Haste over the Referendum Merely to Pave the Way for Elections?

Of course we need the Referendum to pave the way to elections.  And it is one of the SADC conditions for their recognition of the outcome of the next elections.  But the nation's constitution is too important to cut the time necessary for proper considerations before the Referendum just to speed up elections.  This would strengthen the perception, engendered by taking so many of the real decisions away from the Parliamentary Select Committee to first the Management Committee [mostly the Party negotiators] and then to the Principals’ Committee, that the draft serves the interests of the political parties rather than reflecting the views of the nation.  This would negate a feeling of ownership by the people.

No time for proper study by the people for Zimbabwe the people   

The preamble to Article 6 of the GPA, which sets out the parties’ agreement on the constitution-making process, commences with the following ringing words: “Acknowledging that it is the fundamental right and duty of the Zimbabwean people to make a constitution by themselves and for themselves; Aware that the process of making this constitution must be owned and driven by the people and must be inclusive and democratic”.  In Part I it was pointed out that the GPA envisaged about three months between the gazetting of the draft and the Referendum

No time for proper study by civil society

And yet COPAC has asked civil society to partner it in getting the draft out to the people.

The three political parties involved in the process see it as step to elections

All three GPA political parties have since the 17th January sold the draft to their supporters by saying that the constitution will be changed when they are in power. 

ZANU-PF – President Mugabe confirmed very recently that ZANU-PF intends to overhaul the new constitution if it wins the election.

MDC – Welshman Ncube said shortly after the 17th January that when MDC wins the election it will revisit the question of devolution. 

MDC-T – has said that when they are in power they will alter the constitution. 

[Note: This indicates a certain cynicism as all three parties envisage changes that will suit their particular party.  Can any of them be that optimistic as to think they will get the a 2/3 majority in both Houses of Parliament which is what is needed to amend the new Constitution? 

Other political parties – excluded

All have expressed dissatisfaction with being left out of consultations [remember that the leader of Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn, Simba Makoni, got 7% of the peoples’ vote in the last Presidential election.  ZAPU has expressed “reservations” indicating a marked lack of enthusiasm.  How can they be expected to come on board to promote it in less than one month.

Zimbabweans Should Not be Stampeded into Voting

For people to accept the draft as their future constitution more time is needed.  Zimbabweans want to thoroughly examine it make an informed decision ahead of the Referendum on whether it “captures their dreams and hopes, guarantees civil liberties, and economic rights, and above all, entrenches and enhances democracy through freedom of the media and expression.”  Politicians should listen to the demand for more time. They “ must be subservient to the electorate, not vice versa.” [Quotes from Newsday editorial, Monday 18th February 2013].  And the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission need a fair chance to do a good job and gain credibility before the difficult and crucial task of organising our next elections.

 

Comments

Noel says:

People of my beloved country,let us mobilize under Zimbabwe Christian Democratic Party (ZCDP),and implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people,let us enter into covenant with societies in which all Zimbabweans both black and white shall walk tall,without any fear in their hearts assured of their inalienable right to human dignity,a nation at peace with itself and the world,As we are enveloped with darkness,let us be the rays of dawn and light up our horizon,let the light of freedom challenge the darkness of dictatorship and confusion,let the dark days of dispair give way to the season of hope,out of the experience of an extraodinary human disaster that has lasted too long,must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud,we have to start building a united nation,joining hands&nbsp; without regard to ethnic,race,colour and gender,with our communities free to express linguistic and cultural identity in condition of diversity,with each free to assume his or her equal place within our nation,without discrimination,inspired by a new patriotism,where we will truly say Zimbabwe belongs to all who live in it,Our vision is for a quality and better life for all,this is our guiding principle,to defend and advance the rights and liberties of the people,we have been neglected and suffered indignity in the hands of our fellow citizens,change must go fast,join ZCDP, so together we can speed up the journey to a better life,God Bless You,facebook page,zimbabwean christian democratic party,open the pages or <a href="http://www.zcdparty.org">www.zcdparty.org</a>

Submitted by Noel on 21 February 2013 - 2:28pm

Add new comment

  • Articles
  • Reports
Zimbabwe farmers
IntroductionThis is my last article in this series and I have given...
Sunday, 25 May 2014 - 1:01pm
rural farm Zimbabwe
SummaryThis final article examines the importance of land policy for...
Wednesday, 7 May 2014 - 10:31am
Zimbabwe farmer
IntroductionIn this 11th of 12 articles, I bring the issue of land in...
Tuesday, 6 May 2014 - 7:22pm
cattle herder - Zimbabwe
IntroductionIn this 10th of 12 articles I focus on the need to...
Thursday, 28 November 2013 - 11:02am
Zimbabwe smallholding
SummaryThe debate on land tenure has reached an impasse. A...
Tuesday, 12 November 2013 - 7:31pm
Zanupf Rally, 2013
In a reworked narrative on nationalism, veterans were cast as the...
Wednesday, 2 October 2013 - 11:03am
Note to all: please contact info@sokwanele.com if you have...
Monday, 19 August 2013 - 10:10am
I was ten years old when my two best friends were murdered. I can...
Monday, 5 August 2013 - 3:16pm
ZEC Zimbabwe Voter Registration billboard
In Zimbabwe Election Watch Issue 3 we discussed The President's...
Thursday, 27 June 2013 - 3:46pm
The South African weekly newspaper, the Mail & Guardian,...
Monday, 10 June 2013 - 2:55pm
Simba Makoni, Morgan Tsvangirai, Dumiso Dabengwa
Zimbabwe Election Watch Issue 3 is written in the wake of a...
Thursday, 6 June 2013 - 11:36am
February 2013 has come and gone, bringing with it yet another set of...
Tuesday, 21 May 2013 - 8:51am
A woman waits to obtain her national identity card during a voter registration drive in Harare May 9, 2013
Issue 2 of Zimbabwe Election Watch (ZEW) continues Sokwanele's...
Wednesday, 15 May 2013 - 9:31am
We are Zimbabwe logo
Have you ever sat down to read the newspaper, perhaps during your...
Monday, 29 April 2013 - 9:58am
Beatrice Mtetwa exiting a police vehicle
We are launching Zimbabwe Election Watch 2013 on Independence Day....
Thursday, 18 April 2013 - 8:06am

21.08.2013 Judge Bhunu under fire for call to arrest Tsvangirai’s lawyers SW Radio Africa (ZW)
20.08.2013 MDC-T stab victim ‘lucky to be alive’ SW Radio Africa (ZW)
19.08.2013 MDC-T under attack in Mugabe’s home district SW Radio Africa (ZW)
16.08.2013 Tsvangirai withdraws Presidential Polls Challenge SW Radio Africa (ZW)
16.08.2013 Concern raised as women and children flee ZANU PF violence SW Radio Africa (ZW)
15.08.2013 Increasing political retribution against MDC-T supporters SW Radio Africa (ZW)
15.08.2013 Binga villagers in fear as ZPF retribution continues SW Radio Africa (ZW)
15.08.2013 Judge defers ruling on Tsvangirai’s election records request SW Radio Africa (ZW)
15.08.2013 Tsvangirai MDC Says Mozambicans Voted in Zimbabwe Polls VOANews (USA)
15.08.2013 Villagers threatened over elections Zimbabwean, The (ZW)
14.08.2013 Komichi trial date finally set as lawyers prepare fresh bail appeal SW Radio Africa (ZW)
14.08.2013 Tsvangirai presidential challenge to be heard Saturday SW Radio Africa (ZW)
13.08.2013 Mugabe criticized for hate speech on Heroes Day SW Radio Africa (ZW)
13.08.2013 SABC journalists held for filming ‘Freedom Square’ SW Radio Africa (ZW)
13.08.2013 Police refuse to assist threatened headman in Chimanimani SW Radio Africa (ZW)
12.08.2013 Mberengwa women left half-naked by ZANU PF activists SW Radio Africa (ZW)
12.08.2013 Timba kick-starts fight to have Mt Pleasant poll result annulled SW Radio Africa (ZW)
10.08.2013 Nikuv paid $10 million to rig polls - MDC-T Nehanda Radio
09.08.2013 Police search MDC-T Chikomba office as ZPF retribution continues SW Radio Africa (ZW)
09.08.2013 Tsvangirai files ConCourt presidential appeal SW Radio Africa (ZW)

Latest comments

Mourning the loss of hope and security in the wake of a shamelessly stolen election: what can we do?

Kenneth Donald : 09 August 2013

Bless you Rose for your gracious e-mail and your prayerful concern for your people of Zimbabwe. As a Christian in Scotland,we pray for Zimbabwe at thisdifficult & painful time. May the Lord...

M.Spinks : 07 August 2013

Thank you for your words - as a Zimbabwean living in the UK now, I have been feeling very depressed about the election results and also angry with the corrupt, immoral and insane ZANU-PF party....

Eugene Visser : 06 August 2013

Brilliantly sad article. 

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I stab at...

Debra : 06 August 2013

Thank-you for writing this beautiful heartfelt letter, for sharing what you have shared. It is so unbelievably wrong that your lives in your country are held 'hostage' by this farcical power-...

Rose Brent : 06 August 2013

Reading this has brought back so many unhappy memories and hopes and dreams that have been shatered.... I can hear and feel your pain. I too am a Zimbabwean and am treated like I am an Alien...

Ros Lindley : 06 August 2013

I am not Zimbabwean, but I applaud your bravery to speak out.  I wish you well and I apologise for my president's congratulations of the elections and the result.  My prayers and love are with you...

TERENCE fRENCH : 06 August 2013

Another stolen election, and confirmation that the choice to emigrate frommy homeland has been justified by history. What a cruel oppressive government.

Estelle O'Reilly : 05 August 2013

A few weeks before the elections, my husband and I checked online to see if we were registered to vote. We were both registered, and under Ward 10 in Kadoma Central. When we got inside, I was on...

Anonymous : 05 August 2013

This article captures my feelings at the moment perfectly. Thank you so much for writing this. The people of Zimbabwe are not stupid, and we can hope that in the end justice will prevail. The...

ZANU PF Manifesto: Team Zanu PF 2013

Musimuvi : 07 August 2013

Doe it not hurt to work up and find your self so wrong, now that the results are out. Next time please do not speak on behalf of the people whom you seem to have completely no clue about.

Sometimes I hate to be Zimbabwean

Nhamodzenyika Freedom : 07 August 2013

Simon great article know that you do not stand alone  there are lots of zimbabweans who feel the same way

Statement by the Government of Botswana on the 2013 Election in the Republic of Zimbabwe

buxus-hans : 06 August 2013

oneparty claims victory; it is all a lie and the bill will come as investors now pull out of Zimbabwe.Which means more hardship for the families who already have a hard life....

Declaration by the High Representative Catherine Ashton on behalf of the EU on the elections in Zimbabwe

Abel Rumbwere : 05 August 2013

new look zimbabwe

marco camoronezi : 04 August 2013

Congratulations to Zimbabwe for a peaceful election that certainly deserves thumps up from all corners of the globe.After all this is an election like no other but one that is bound to be...

judy van aard : 04 August 2013

Anybody who believes it was free and fair whn it was so obviouslyy

ririgged is a complete idiot. ZANU had it so tied up they didn't even to use violence. SADSADC and the AU worship Mugabe...

President Tsvangirai’s statement to the press after the MDC national council meeting, Harare, 3 August 2013

mucha : 03 August 2013

Mr Tsvangson, pliz accept defeat and that will retain credibility as a leader. You didn't do your home work properly. You didn't encourage your supporters to register and relied on the same voters...

ZEC Results: announced 1 August 2013

mafana : 02 August 2013

Zim political parties should think about the people's welfare and not self willed personal interests.Voter margins show in mos places a united front would have brought about a different result.

When youths become too important

ZANDILE : 01 August 2013

Finally, somebody shares my thoughts! I feel sorry for these youths and their parents.

This time I will rise up

Immie : 31 July 2013

God bless you. You have my support.

Forces of evil lurking in the dark

True Grit : 31 July 2013

One can only hope that the result will be a positive one for Zimbabwe's future.