The winding way to the Constitution of Zimbabwe
On the 16th of June 2013, in a national referendum, the people of Zimbabwe voted Yes in favour of passing the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No.20) Act, 2013. The process leading up to this overwhelming responds to a new constitutional dispensation can be traced back as far as 1888.
In 1888, The British South Africa Company gained a mandate to colonize what was then known as Southern Rhodesia, this mandate, enacted a constitutional framework that was part of the larger struggle to achieve freedoms and rights for the majority of the people of modern day Zimbabwe. Pre-Independence, the context of political exclusion of the majority of the population, resulted in doomed Constitutional Reform Processes one being the 1965 Rhodesian Independence Constitution resulting in a 15 year civil war. By the end of this war, in 1978, the British government invited the parties to the Lancaster House Constitutional Conference the aim was to negotiate the terms of independence, this including the terns of a new independent Constitution that would underpin the new Nation of Zimbabwe. Post political dialogues and negotiations, a compromise Constitution was signed in December 1979, this came to be known as the Lancaster House Agreement. Since it came into force till 2005 the Agreement went through seventeen amendments, none of which went to a referendum or popular participation.
In myriad of socio-economic and political dynamics that characterised the early 1990’s gave rise to increased calls by the public for socio economic reforms that resulted in a coalition of civil society organisations, activists, trade unions and religious institutions coalescing to consider alternative constitutional dispensations under the formation of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA). The Government of Zimbabwe in response to a clear public demand on a new constitutional dispensation also initiated a Constitutional Commission of Inquiry (CCI). In February 2000, the Referendum for the draft constitution was strongly rejected by the voting public for various factors amongst which was lack of a public consultation process. The aspect of public consultation on constitutional reform processes underpinned the failure of the second attempt to draft a new constitutional formwork by political actors in Zimbabwe, through the Zimbabwe political dialogue process consisting of three political parties, which resulted in what was popularly referred to as the Kariba Draft Constitution which also failed to gain traction and reach a referendum due to heavy criticism of public exclusion from the process.
The New Constitution
In March, 2008, following a contested election, Southern African Development Community (SADC) sought to facilitate a political dialogue in Zimbabwe to ensure political stability within Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe Political Dialogue facilitated and guaranteed by SADC as an institution, brought about three political parties to the negotiating table seeking to address internal political conflict through a negotiated process resulting in the Global Political Agreement (GPA), signed on the 15th September 2008. The GPA ushered in an a coalition government between ZANU-PF, MDC(T) and MDC with several key governance arenas spelt out as a roadmap to broad socio economic and political reforms including a new Constitution.
The coalition government led the process of establishing a Parliamentary Committee on the Constitution (COPAC) consisting of 25 members of parliament to lead the constitutional development process. The representation was divided as follows: 10 persons from ZANU-PF, 11 persons from MDC-T, 3 persons from MDC-M and Representative of the traditional chiefs. The COPAC consisted of 17 men and 8 women.
2009 saw the first All-Stakeholders Conference with 4000 delegates attending, and between June-October 2010 there were 4 943 public consultations in all 1 957 Wards hosted by COPAC. Following the consultation on 17 July 2012, the First Draft of the Constitution was released. Following several amendments, and an intense debate the final January draft was agreed upon, and a date for the referendum was set. Following the YES vote on the 16th of March, the new Constitution came into effect on the 23rd of March ending a 13 year process of seeking a new Constitutional framework in Zimbabwe.