At a time when the voice of Christianity is needed most to serve as a moral compass to guide the Constitution-making process in Zimbabwe, there has been a resounding silence. Government officials have pleaded with the Christian community to become involved in the process of crafting a new Constitution for their country. Yet, there remains a degree of passivity and lethargy in the Body of Christ, and there is a sense of weariness in the nation generally. The outreach teams have begun their consultation meetings with members of the public in all ten of Zimbabwes provinces but attendance has been low, which can be attributed to a combination of different factors.
At present, the constitutional process is beleaguered by various problems and obstacles and is fast losing credibility and legitimacy.
The Constitution Parliamentary Committee (Copac) has expressed concern over lack of adequate publicity of the ongoing Constitution outreach exercise, saying it is likely to impact negatively on the outcome. In an interview, Copac co-chairperson, Douglas Mwonzora (MDC-T) acknowledged they were facing the challenge of lack of funding to advertise and raise awareness on the Constitution-making process through the media. The outreach programme is not receiving the publicity that we hoped it would get. We were aiming at achieving the widest possible participation of the public, said Mr Mwonzora. He said they were depending on giving a seven-day notice to districts prior to their visits in a bid to ensure the outreach meetings are attended, but this is proving to be largely ineffective.
Review meetings have been held by Copacs leadership to deal with issues ranging from the unreasonable demands for payment of cash upfront by hotels to the various cases of violence and intimidation, especially in Mashonaland West and Central provinces. As for the violence and intimidation, all parties took a common position condemning in the strongest terms anyone engaging in violence. Mwonzora said cases of violence will be reported and investigated by the police. Over the last ten years, police have consistently turned a blind eye to most perpetrators of violence, so it is difficult to believe that it will be any different this time. Several civil society organizations monitoring the outreach programme have released reports chronicling incidents of chaos, intimidation and violence in Mashonaland Central, Midlands, Masvingo, Manicaland and the Matabeleland provinces.
In an interesting twist, however, co-chairperson of Copac, Paul Munyaradzi Mangwana (ZANU - PF), told journalists at a press conference that reports of chaos and violence were a figment of the medias imagination. The previous week, Mangwana had confirmed to the daily newspaper, NewsDay, cases of violence that had erupted during constitutional public hearings in Mashonaland West. I can confirm that in Chinhoyi, there was an almost volatile situation when one of the political parties was being suspected of using Copac vehicles to lobby its party members, Mangwana said. He stated that Copac experienced problems in Mashonaland West where people thought it was unsafe to participate without police presence. But recently he made a U-turn saying, We have had meetings with the Select Committee where our team leaders have reported that there was no violence.
Mangwana said civic society was not part of the Copac project and whatever they reported should not be taken seriously, contrary to his earlier agreement to allow civil society to be a part of overseeing the process. He dismissed the incriminating reports by some NGOs, saying, The general atmosphere has been conducive and meetings have been held in an environment of peace. No incidences of violence have been recorded. We are seeing national healing in the process, with members of different political parties sitting together and speaking their minds out.
Copacs decision this week to ban journalists from reporting on the publics contributions during official outreach hearings has further reinforced suspicion that the coalition government could attempt to manipulate the Constitution-making process.
However, none of these factors should be used as excuses for not participating. They will not stand up to the scrutiny of future generations who will have to contend with whatever is included in or omitted from the Constitution. Currently, the only voices being heard are those of the political parties and a few human rights organizations. Where is the Church?
The African Centre for Law & Justice (ACLJ) in Zimbabwe is working together with relevant government officials, churches and interested civil society actors to create platforms for greater debate and discussion over the Constitution, as well as to generate interest and raise awareness at every level of society about the importance of the peoples involvement. One of the main thrusts of the organization is to mobilize the Christians to take up their God-given responsibility and to play their part in this monumental process. Achieving unity among different churches has often proven to be a challenge; but meetings are currently being held, bringing together notable Christian leaders representing all denominations, to find strategic ways of giving greater publicity and visibility to the position of the Church in Zimbabwe vis-a-vis the Constitution so that her voice will not be drowned out by the politics of the day.
The numerous problems dogging the Constitution-making process have, to all intents and purposes, put the whole exercise in doubt. However, there is still time for people to unite and understand that this document is not for politicians, youth militia, and traditional chiefs but a document for the people of Zimbabwe, but they should act now. It is time for Zimbabweans, and Christians in particular, to realize that their destiny is in their own hands and it is their moral obligation to participate in this process and give their views on the content. The making of a Constitution is a very significant national, not partisan, event.
Be heard, Zimbabwe!
African Centre for Law & Justice - Zimbabwe
Please note that in discussing political issues, candidates positions and political party statements, Jordan Sekulow is offering analysis in his individual capacity as lawyer and commentator. He is not speaking on behalf of the American Center for Law & Justice. The ACLJ does not endorse or oppose candidates for public office. Nothing contained in this article should be construed as the position of the ACLJ.