IN my last instalment I wrote about the desirability of building on the gains of the new Constitution instead of being stuck in a moment of history and not realising that the Constitution has actually moved the country forward.
The Constitution provides the basis of good governance and a solid sociopolitical infrastructure for State-citizen relations.
However, as long as we as people do not know the contents of the Constitution, it will remain a piece of paper which is the property of political elites.
Just as the Bible eloquently declares “My People perish because of lack of knowledge”, indeed people will continue to perish as long as they do not know that the Constitution creates a relatively new governance framework and radically changes the manner in which the State and State institutions behave towards its citizens.
The Constitution states that the State should ensure there is public awareness of the Constitution. The measures which the Constitution prescribes include:
- Translating the Constitution into the thirteen official languages of Zimbabwe and simplifying the document,
- Ensuring that all State agencies including the security forces, government departments and all organs of government are familiarised with the contents of the new Constitution,
- Recognising the role of civil society in carrying out civic awareness on the Constitution,
- The introduction of constitutional studies in schools and colleges through a civics curriculum.
This in itself is a quantum leap for the nation as it means that all public institutions have a role in promoting public awareness of the Constitution. In the past civic education carried out by civic groups was frowned upon by State agencies, but now it is a national constitutional duty for civil society and public institutions including schools to ensure that there is sufficient public knowledge of the constitution.
Public awareness of the Constitution will drastically change the collective behaviour, attitudes, responsiveness and indeed the need for the architecture of State/citizen interface.
The Constitution is not a document which should only be understood by lawyers and used or abused by political elites.
It is a document that is made in the image of people of Zimbabwe. The new Constitution represents a giant leap forward in terms of issues pertaining to:
- Gender equality,
- Fair regional representation,
- Increased local participation by citizens,
- Sound public leadership and good governance principles,
- Media plurality and the imperative of an impartial public broadcaster,
- Recognition and promotion of previously marginalised languages and cultures,
- Protection of excluded and vulnerable groups such as children, people with A marked improvement in civil and political rights,
- Environmental, social and economic rights,
- A framework for challenging human rights violations by empowering citizens to approach the courts on their behalf and on behalf of other citizens whose rights have been violated,
- Depoliticisation of security sector, civil service and traditional leaders by barring all these categories of people from being partisan in the discharge of their duties,
- Recognition of devolution of power to provincial and local government,
- Ceation of institutions supporting democracy, ie the independent commissions,
- An improved electoral system including a mixed first past the post — proportional representation system. This ensured gender parity and even parties that did not win a single seat under the first past the post system such as MDC (Ncube) managed to gather a few seats in parliament,
- Recognition of the role of war veterans.
Whether we like it or not, we have to acknowledge the role they played in the liberation.
While the Constitution may be akin to an unwanted political pregnancy as a result of an abusive, incestuous or forced relationship between rival inclusive government political parties, we all have to embrace the healthy baby that the relationship gave birth to.
All the three political parties — MDC, MDC–T and Zanu PF — should celebrate the tremendous gains that they gave birth to in the Constitution.
Civil society, including the National Constitutional Assembly, brought the agenda of the new Constitution to the doorsteps of Parliament and the nation and should be commended for their outstanding contribution.
This is a step forward. Even though the document is not perfect, it would be naïve to expect a “miracle constitution” in such an intoxicated political environment.
The people need to know and own the Constitution because it is the supreme law of the land.
- Dumisani Nkomo is an activist and opinion leader