Tuesday, 16 June 2015

The Elitist Character of Zimbabwe’s New Constitution and Understanding Our Undemocratic Contemporary Political Order

Committee of the Peoples Charter 

Think. Act. Lead.

Position Paper Number 2

Issue Date: 15 June 2015

1.1 The legal reality that is Zimbabwe’s new constitution, in the two years that is has existed, was never intended as the ushering in of a new democratic era for the country.  This is despite the controversial constitutional outreach and eventual referendum that saw 3 million people voting in favour and 178 489 voting against the supreme legal document of the country.

1.2 Since its promulgation into law following presidential assent on 22 May 2013 and its established framework for the holding of harmonised elections on 31 July of the same year, the new constitution has taken on its true character of being an incremental, elitist and political power seeking document.

1.3 This is evidenced not only by its transitional clauses in relation to executive authority, but also the fact that it has not resulted in any significant democratic shift in the way in which the people of Zimbabwe are governed. 

1.4 What it has unfortunately led to is a continuation of the concentration of power in the hands of executive, an expansion of the institutional reach of the same through guided devolution and decentralization of the state, a default bill of rights that depends on state benevolence for it to be justiciable and a parliament that serves more as a distribution of state largess than it does democratic oversight of the executive. 

1.5 But perhaps the most critically disparaging aspect of the new constitution is less its incrementalist content and more its elite functionalism without any indications of it being structured to deliver a new people driven democratic culture. 

1.6 The signs of the latter are to be found in the already announced intention to amend it by the ruling Zanu PF Party.  Not that constitutions cannot be amended but to change them so soon after a national referendum betrays the actual character of the document as one of political expediency as opposed to organic entrenchment of democratic values and principles.

1.7 It is within this context that the new constitution cannot be viewed as people driven, democratic or a final document that will best serve posterity. This is argued because of the following key reasons:

a) The new constitution was a political party compromise document that was negotiated during the tenure of the inclusive government.  This fact is perhaps what most cripples the new constitution. Being devoid of the key political element of being established for posterity and undermined by the political expediency that was the inclusive government, it becomes a document that remains relevant largely to those that at any one given point yield state power, over and above any organic social democratic meaning to the citizens of the country.

b) The national referendum that preceded its promulgation, was politicized to the extent of being a dress rehearsal for the subsequent June 2013 harmonised elections.  It was therefore not just a referendum in the broadest possible understanding of the term but a cajoling of the Zimbabwean people to accept that which the political elite had deemed to be correct. To this extent a great number of Zimbabweans still do not know let alone the comprehend the full import of the new constitution.  This is a reality that underpins the fact of the elitist nature of the constitution, despite claims by the then inclusive government that it was derived from a people driven process.

c) The aftermath of both the referendum and the enactment of the new constitution have been characterized by general government nonchalance as to the establishment of subsidiary enabling legislation. This is largely due to not only an evident lack of political will but the general disdain and disregard that the government has toward its own elite document.  A disdain that stems from the fact that the new constitution is viewed as utilitarian only where and when and concerns power and the distribution of state largess as opposed to the advancement of ingrained democratic values into our political system and culture.  That this can occur so soon after the supreme law came into effect demonstrates its clear disjuncture from the lived realities of the people.

1.8 It is therefore imperative that the new constitution be placed into its full political context so we come to an understanding as to its full import.

Such context would best be encapsulated in the following two points:

a) The new constitution, given the undemocratic and inorganic manner of its genesis cannot be viewed as a document that is indicative of national democratic arrival.  The search for a new democratic, people driven constitution for Zimbabwe is still a journey that must be embarked on in a manner that includes but is not limited to political parties in government as is the current case.

b) That while the new constitution is a legal reality that cannot be avoided, all Zimbabweans must remain cognizant of its fundamental democratic inadequacies.  Even if they were to get piecemeal changes via some of its clauses, these gains would remain a far off the mark with regard to the truly social democratic society that all Zimbabweans regardless of age, race, colour, gender and class deserve.

c) And lastly that in its legal reality, the new constitution, is not the panacea to our past, current and future problems with authoritarian rule or cosmetic and pretentious democratic governance.  All Zimbabweans need to continue their search and conscious struggle for a social democratic society despite claims by political party leaders to a false narrative of arrival. This must be done with full knowledge of our past mistakes as a country and for posterity.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Statement on the forcible removal of vendors

Government Not only Wrong But Hypocritical.

Issue Date: 2 June 2015

The Committee of the Peoples Charter condemns the recent announcement by local government minister Ignatius Chombo declaring a seven day ultimatum for all vendors to leave the central business districts of all cities and towns. The minister issued this statement with the endorsement and contribution of the Joint Operations Command (JOC), a development that is not only inappropriate but also unnecessary in order to pursue a democratic solution to a perceived problem. 

In their responses, and correctly so, the Zimbabwe Informal Sector Organisation (ZISO) and the National Vendors Union Zimbabwe (NAVUZ) have described this undemocratic intent on the part of government action as tantamount to treating a symptom and not a cause.  

They further asserted that however one views the issue of vending in central business districts, bringing in JOC and the spectre of forcible removal, is not going to solve the economic challenges such as unemployment and endemic poverty that are faced by many Zimbabweans.

The CPC wholly agrees with the views of ZISO and NAVUZ and in solidarity also wishes to highlight the following:

The issue of informal trade is now an intrinsic reality of Zimbabwe’s political economy.  Wishing it away by threatening to forcibly move vendors from our cities and  towns using both the police and army is tragically reminiscent of the repressive tendencies of the colonial state. The latter sought to keep city/town centers not only as racial but also economic exclusion zones from the majority poor. 

It is also intended action that reflects the repressive tendencies of our current post independence government. It has retained the economic apparatus and framework of the colonial state in limiting the right of citizens to earn a decent living through elitist and neo-liberal economic policies that favour the politically connected rich at the expense of the majority poor. From economic blueprints such as the Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes of the 1990s through to the present day ZimAsset, it is clear that government is directly responsible for the current and dire national economic state of affairs.

These policies have over the years led to massive private sector retrenchments, lack of social service delivery, unprecedented high costs of living, repression of trade unions and the introduction of an economic patronage system based on political affiliation.  Their end results have been the current situation in which thousands of our country’s citizens having no choice but to undertake informal economic activities while millions others resort to seeking greener pastures in the Diaspora.

For government, through JOC, to want to arbitrarily remove vendors from the  CBD is an exercise in not only political repression but crass hypocrisy.

The CPC is of the firm view that the City of Harare and other urban local authorities have not done enough to seek an amicable solution to the opportunities and challenges that come with the expansion of the informal sector within their cities.  Furthermore, central government, through the ministry of local government, by calling for forcible removal of vendors without a comprehensive  and people centered alternative plan  is demonstrating the extent to which it is not grounded in the realities confronting a majority of urban residents countrywide. 

It is for this reason that the CPC is convinced that government is absolutely wrong on seeking solutions in forcible removal of vendors. What is it that must be hidden about the lived realities of the people of Zimbabwe and from whom must it be hidden?

There are better solutions in engagement and dialogue, processes which the relevant associations of vendors and the informal sector have already agreed to. Businesses in the CBD must also agree that their lack of capacity to deliver and fill in the market gap that is now occupied by the informal sector are also reflective of larger economic challenges than mere occupation of street corners.

Above all else, local and central government are obliged not to act in a rash and arbitrary fashion. They must address economic challenges holistically and with an intention to address them as opposed to excluding the poor majority from their right to earn a living.  This includes democratic engagement in good faith with all residents, vendors unions, businesses and addressing key causes of the desperate poverty that has made it so necessary for citizens to hawk small goods on street pavements.

Information Department