Dark Day in Zimbabwe as Government Passes Amendment Number 2 Bill to the Constitution
Today, Zimbabwe marks a dark day in its post-independence history, a day after 191 Parliamentarians voted in the House of Assembly to pass Amendment Number 2 Bill to the Constitution. Days after marking our 41st independence anniversary, a time at which we ought to be taking stock of progress made in consolidating our democracy, we mark a moment of monumental regression.
The Constitution of Zimbabwe was born out of a protracted constitutional struggle that started in the 1990s, finally meeting with success on 22 May 2013 when the new Constitution took effect. Unfortunately, eight years later the gains registered are being reversed. This Bill seeks to amend various clauses of the Constitution, with the result that the Bill wholesomely undermines separation of powers, checks and balances, citizen participation, Parliamentary oversight and independence of institutions.
A constitution is for posterity. It is a legacy to our future and the generations of Zimbabweans to come. It is an embodiment of our collective aspirations, and the social contract of how we desire to conduct our national affairs. It is not a document to be tempered with to satisfy the political desires or sectarian interests of the day. Doing so has far-reaching consequences that would far outlive the architects.
When Parliament consulted the people in 2020, citizens risked the COVID-19 pandemic to attend public hearings. The results of these nationwide hearings as observed by the Forum was a resounding NO! Citizens, civil society, the international community and the democratic opposition, all spoke against the amendments. If our government was truly a government for the people, and if the leadership were truly a listening leadership, surely the democratic wishes of the majority would carry the day. However, it is abundantly clear that the wishes of the people are a secondary consideration.
Notwithstanding the retrogressive substantive elements of the Bill, the procedures adopted in fast-tracking the Bill through Parliament is unlawful and unconstitutional as it contravenes subsections 328 (3) and (4) of the Constitution. The Bill, which had been amended outside its original form days before the vote, was passed through Parliament without the requisite 90-day notice period being instituted by the Speaker of Parliament, to invite members of the public to express their views on the revisions to the original Bill.
The passage of the Bill, coming days after the passage of Amendment No. 1 Bill by the Senate, marks a clear sign of democratic relapse. The amendments we are facing, expose rank insincerity on the part of the government, when it participated in the Constitution making process. It appears that participation was a self-serving act of political preservation, as opposed to a vision-setting exercise and a commitment to follow the constitutional and democratic trajectory. Zimbabweans participated in the March 2013 referendum, with 94.5% voting in favour, believing all were genuine in the process. Ironically, while the current government had previously prior to 2013 refused to back provisions that appeared to be targeting individuals, at that time President Robert Mugabe, it seems that some of the present amendments are person specific, in particular as they relate to the office of the Chief Justice. It is clear that the Bill seeks to consolidate and solidify the President’s position ahead of the 2023 elections and beyond.
This insincerity has, in the intervening years, been supported by the attitudes and conduct that have been displayed, in the disregard of the law; unjustified continued suspension of by-elections; slow pace of legislative alignment to the Constitution; half-hearted and feigned law reform, with the passage of laws such as the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act; manipulation and use of the criminal justice system against critics; and a retrogressive legislative agenda where laws such as the Patriot Bill are being proposed. Citizens, the Forum, diplomatic missions, the African Union Chairperson and UN officials have all spoken out against this trend since November 2017, warning of democracy under threat.
The actions of the government betray a departure from the independence ideals of democracy and constitutionalism. History has taught us that constitutionalism, respect for the law and respect of the democratic wishes of the people, unlock the benefits of socio-economic and political progress. Our stubborn disregard of these truths that have been tested over time signifies dark days ahead.
The Forum registers its deepest exception to the stance taken by the government.