Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Referendum Debate
SW Radio Africa's Violet Gonda brings you a special referendum debate on the Hot Seat programme with Minister of Constitutional Affairs Eric Matinenga, NCA chairman Dr Lovemore Madhuku and Ozias Tungawara, Director of the Africa Governance Monitoring and Advocacy Project – an Open Society Foundation project. Why are people being told to vote Yes when the majority have not been given adequate information and time to make an informed decision; what happens to the NCA in the event of a majority Yes vote; why does Matinenga believe the country is heading for a second government of national unity?
VIOLET GONDA: Let me start with Dr. Madhuku – your organization was arguing in the courts that the referendum date announced by President Mugabe was too soon for people to study and understand the draft constitution but this has been thrown out by the Supreme Court. Can you give us your reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision?
LOVEMORE MADHUKU: We are obviously disappointed by the decision. We had hoped that the courts would have found in our favour. The period given which was just one month, we sincerely thought that was too short but unfortunately the courts said no because they thought it was reasonable and they could not interfere with the decision of the President. So we are disappointed by the decision, unfortunately we have to work with it.
GONDA: And if you had been given an extra month, what difference would that have made?
MADHUKU: It would have made a big difference to the democratic culture we are building in the country. The difference is not made by the Yes vote winning or a No vote winning. We had not gone to court to say we want more time in order to win, we needed more time to ensure that we could be able to exercise our democratic right to sell our ideas and so forth.
GONDA: Minister Matinenga, the NCA says that people were not afforded adequate time to scrutinize the draft but the Supreme Court has said that the time which was set out by President Mugabe was adequate. What’s your take on this?
ERIC MATINENGA: I did not participate either at a personal or official level in those proceedings. I just worked on the basis that whatever the court says then that is what the court says and I conduct myself accordingly. Whilst the application was before the courts, my Ministry embarked on a nation-wide exercise to explain the draft to the people so that when the time comes for them to vote, at least they will vote from an informed position and I’ve been away from Harare, I think for the past two weeks, going province by province doing exactly that and I just arrived in Harare today – my last stop was Hwange yesterday. Whatever the court was going to say, that was never going to stop the programme and I accept that what the NCA wanted, as Dr. Madhuku says, was not to stop the referendum but simply to be afforded what they considered to be sufficient time in order to be able to get across to the Zimbabwean population.
GONDA: But what would you have lost as government if you had given people more time to scrutinize the draft document?
MATINENGA: Violet I don’t want to answer for somebody else. I think from the very beginning I made the point very, very clearly that the decision to identify the 16th of March was not my decision; it was a decision made by somebody whom I do not have control of.
GONDA: By President Mugabe?
GONDA: So your party in government had no say?
MATINENGA: I haven’t said that. I’ve said I wasn’t party to it. I can’t remember the date now but I know that I briefed Cabinet about the constitution-making process and I had started on the constitutional awareness programmes already. I left early to go to Mvurwi and I then came back to be told that a decision to hold the referendum on the 16th had been made.
GONDA: There are others, especially in the civil society, who say that there are at least five million registered voters in the country, but the government through COPAC only printed 90 000 draft copies of the constitution. So if this is the case, isn’t it worrying though that people are being told to vote Yes without the proper information if you only printed 90 000 out of about five million eligible voters out there?
MATINENGA: Violet I would have wanted more copies to be published but I think when you make reference to that figure, it is the figure for the English copies and does not include the figure for the other two vernacular languages which was Sindebele and Shona. So yes it was necessary to make more copies available but what is important is this – one does not necessarily get information from getting a copy. There are a lot of other ways of getting information and what my Ministry was doing was to invite stakeholders and then request these stakeholders to go back to their communities and then spread the word.
GONDA: Mr. Tungwarara there is so much talk about the process – what do you make of this?
TUNGWARARA: In a constitution making process, process is as important as the content of the final document on which people are asked to exercise a choice if they are going to make a meaningful choice. And I think we need to situate the level at which people have participated in a continuum and not only look at what is happening after a draft has been agreed to. I’m afraid, and it’s unfortunate, that the process has not allowed meaningful participation by a majority of the people. We all know what happened in the run-up to coming up with the draft and we may not want to rehash those issues but when you look at the level at which people have participated, it has been contaminated.
GONDA: So is the outcome of this referendum easy to predict then, given what you have said? Is there still a contest?
TUNGWARARA: It’s difficult to say Violet because people are going to have to exercise their choice and that cannot be preempted because it is a secret ballot but again looking at the context in which the constitution making process has happened I think there are fundamentals which we did not get right which then create an environment where the outcome is unlikely to be legitimate, both in terms of issues around popular participation in its real sense and also legitimate outcomes that are facilitated by an environment where people exercise independent and objective choice - with access to information, facilitated by an environment in which media is actually providing accurate information.
GONDA: Dr. Madhuku are you as an organization just criticizing the process or you are also criticizing the product?
MADHUKU: We have criticized both the process and the content of the document. We have been very critical of the process – that has been widely publicised but our criticism of the content has not received media coverage - and perhaps that is why some people don’t understand what we are saying. But we have gone through all; our criticisms on the powers of the president which have generally been retained in the draft, the size of the legislature – it’s keeping on ballooning and a number of points that we have raised. We have a document with about 37 points.