via Regime change is a basic democratic procedure | The Zimbabwean 24 June 2014 by Fr Oskar Wermter SJ
Landlords throw tenants out onto the street in freezing temperatures – with their furniture, with small children, pregnant wives and ancient grandmothers, the lot. A cabinet minister keeps threatening that he will order the demolition of “illegal housing”, forgetting that his party gave the building plots to the “settlers”, now found to be “illegal”, as a pre-election bribe.
I don’t care that the landlord and the minister may be, legally speaking, in the right. Maybe the law is on their side, but then sometimes “the law is an ass”. It may be lawful and yet immoral. Their lawyer may win, but humanity is being defeated.
Remember Operation Clean-up/Murambatsvina? The government claimed it was only enforcing the law, and yet the United Nations, through their Tanzanian representative Anna Tibaijuka, condemned the campaign in humanitarian terms as a “disastrous venture based on a set of colonial-era laws”.
Zimbabwe’s new constitution lists shelter as a basic human right. “The State ….must…enable every person to have access to adequate shelter” (chapter 2, no. 28). The African Charter on human and peoples’ rights, to which our government is a signatory, says the same (article 24).
Such a basic law based on human rights overrules any other law, which in fact should be adjusted so as to be in conformity with the constitution. Even if an eviction of lodgers or occupants of land can be justified as necessary for the common good, e.g. if occupation of a certain plot endangers the communal water supply and hygiene, the actual resettlement must be carried out in a humane manner. Above all, alternative accommodation must be provided; no-one should be forced to squat in subhuman conditions out in the open.
There are certain basic standards of decency we all have to observe. Why is it that rich landowners who reside in luxury mansions seem to have the least respect for what humanity requires?
Our dirty secret is that the ruling party voted for the new constitution for political reasons, without respect for the moral principles contained in it. In fact the party has its own basic law which it observes religiously: cling to power by any means! Which is why working for “regime change”, even thinking or talking about it, is a criminal offence in their eyes.
“Regime change”, of course, is a basic democratic procedure. To make it go smoothly, without violence or bloodshed, we have elections. A friend recently asked, “When do you think we have a mature democracy?” And he supplied the answer himself, ”When a governing party which originated in the war of liberation is defeated in elections, accepts the defeat and hands over power graciously to the winner, willingly moving to the opposition benches.”
We all agree
The constitution is supposed to be the one thing in our democracy which we all agree on, whatever else may divide us. It is the common ground on which we all stand, the party in power as well as the opposition.
But our constitution is not accepted by all. The ruling party has its own unwritten “constitution”, or let us say basic guiding principle of all their political action: our “revolutionary” party must retain power! Which means anyone not a “revolutionary” can be disregarded, disenfranchised, even deprived of citizenship.
By contrast the constitution of 2013 states :”Every person has the right to life” (48). “Every person has inherent dignity in their private and public life, and the right to have that dignity respected and protected” (51). “Every person” means regardless of political affiliation, religion, gender, ethnic background etc. “No person may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished, without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances” (74).
Rule of law
Were those railway workers in Lochinvar and their families who were evicted from their lodgings and dumped in the open, to quote a random example, respected as persons and citizens with rights as regards life, health, privacy, shelter?
The constitution of 2013 seems to be merely a set of beautiful principles, kept on a bookshelf, to be shown visitors to this country who want proof of the Rule of Law before they release funding. But in actual fact, the constitution has not yet arrived where the people are and is not yet effective in protecting them from harassment.
Our lawgivers should be busy adjusting all legislation that is at variance with provisions of the Constitution. That is what they are being paid for. They should not complain about non-payment of their allowances if they have not done their work yet.
We cannot expect the parties to really devote themselves to the rebuilding of the Zimbabwean economy and therefore to saving the lives of the people before their respective party congresses have decided on their future leaders. In the meantime the political class remains embroiled in sterile infighting.
However the ordinary people remain “sheep without a shepherd”, whether in Chitungwiza, Lochinvar or wherever. Will their elected representatives not think of their duties towards them as they have sworn in their oath of office (Constitution, pp. 162/3)? The voters have reason to challenge those they voted for to act on their behalf.
There is a prophetic word, “No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them” (Ezechiel 34: 10). This should encourage the people not to accept their leaders’ inaction lying down.