AU Democracy Charter Meaningless Without Adhering to Country’s Constitution
One of the most wonderful documents that Zimbabwe has ever produced in its 38 years of independence is its Constitution – making us a global beacon on issues of democracy, elections, and governance – however, that is where the story starts and ends: as nothing more has been done beyond producing it.
Despite containing tenets that even regional, continental, and global bodies – as the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), African Union (AU), and the United Nations (UN) – can emulate, the Zimbabwe government has never seen it fit to put this special document into actual effect, by aligning the country’s laws to it, especially those pertaining to democracy, elections, and governance.
Any calls by various stakeholders in Zimbabwe’s affairs, such as opposition political parties, civil society, and the general population – especially, those whose rights have been wantonly violated – to align the country’s laws with the Constitution have been met with lame excuses, at best, and flagrant disregard and scorn, at worst.
In fact, as the SADC and European Union (EU) elections preparedness monitoring teams were in the country recently, one of the most contentious issues regularly raised by opposition parties and civil society, was the skewed nature of Zimbabwe’s democratic and electoral laws.
These missions were presented with pages and pages of precise instances of these violations – from undemocratic laws as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA), the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), as well as other legislation pertaining to elections.
Of course, there are a plethora of other oppressive laws, such as the Protected Places and Areas Act, Official Secrets Act, which curtail the public’s democratic right to know, and the Presidential Powers Act that gives too power to one person.
However, Zimbabwe’s enviable Constitution makes quiet a number of provisions that should have rendered these oppressive laws redundant – but alas, did not!
As far as elections are concerned, the Constitution makes it very clear in Section 155(2)(d), for instance, that the State must take all appropriate measures, including legislative measures, to provide all political parties and candidates contesting an election or participating in a referendum with fair and equal access to electronic and print media, both public and private.
In this regard, any Zimbabwean who dares, and has the patience, to watch and read the state media, would know that the only time that the opposition is mentioned is when there is something unsavory occurring within their corridors of powers – such as the current vicious infighting in the MDC.
I would not want to think that that is what the Constitution was merely referring to, as there has been so much more positive happenings within that party.
If the state broadcaster could obtain interviews with senior MDC officials on the infighting, then, surely, they can do the same on the party’s policies, and election preparedness and manifesto!
Thus, it was more than ridiculous hearing on Voice of America Studio 7 last evening, a ruling ZANU PF apologist claiming that the reason state media never covered the opposition was that their journalists were manhandled every time they attended their rallies and meetings.
So, why have these journalists not filed any charges, and how come they were not beaten up when they obtained those interviews on the factional fighting in the party?
This is just an example of the lame excuses that the ruling ZANU PF party always feels compelled to give, in order to justify their reckless disregard of the supreme law of the land.
The Fourth Schedule of the constitution, Section (1)(1)(a) and (b) provides that a person is qualified to be registered as a voter on the voters roll of a constituency if he or she is of or over the age of eighteen years, and is a Zimbabwean citizen.
As much as Section (2) stipulates that the Electoral Law may prescribe additional residential requirements to ensure that voters are registered on the most appropriate voters rolls, however any such requirement must be consistent with section 67 of the constitution.
A reading of section 67 makes it abundantly clear that denying Zimbabweans in the diaspora their right on the flimsy grounds that they should only vote within their Zimbabwean residential wards, is a violation of the Constitution – contact to the recent shameful and futile attempts by the government at convincing the EU electoral mission delegation, as to why those in the diaspora could not vote.
In fact, section 67(3)(a) ensures that every Zimbabwean citizen who is of or over eighteen years of age has the right to vote in all elections and referendums to which the Constitution or any other laws applies.
Section 67, as the guarantor of political rights, has, arguably, been the most violated aspect of the Constitution, as it assures citizens of the right to free, fair elections, to make political choices freely, to participate in the activities of a political party of their choice, and to campaign freely and peacefully.
Needless to say, there have already been numerous reports of intimidation of voters, as their voter registration certificate numbers were demanded by suspected ZANU PF members, and told that the new computerized Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) process enabled them to know who one voted for.
This is one of the gravest brazen violation of citizens’ rights to a free, fair, and peaceful election, and free choice, considering that the vast majority of the country’s population are not technologically savvy, and would readily believe these lies – and just this one form of intimidation on its own, can easily determine an election outcome.
Additionally, as much as the opposition is campaigning relatively openly and freely in the urban areas, the same can not be said for the rural areas, where traditional leaders – in violation of section 281(2)(a), (b), (c), and (d), that forbid them from participating in any partisan politics – are reportedly at the forefront of intimidating villagers from supporting the opposition, and are mobilizing for the ruling ZANU PF party.
Admittedly, acts of brutal violence have, so far, been far and in between, but this is not to be taken lightly, especially by those observer missions – as elections in Africa should never be stereotyped and made acceptable that one or two acts of violence are to be tolerable.
Any act of violence against perceived opponents in the country’s elections, should be taken very seriously, similar to someone who kills just one person, but has the whole force of the law against him or her.
Having considered all these acts of shameless disregard of one of the most beautiful constitutions on this planet, one is then left with one sour question: why would President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa see it worthy to sign the AU Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance?
What was the use of adding more and more documents, when his ZANU PF government is failing to adhere to the existing one?
Is it not a matter of playing to the gallery, and trying to pull a fast one over the international community – which has, so far, been apparently very gullible to his wiles?
He has seemingly been successful in playing them like puppets, and I am sure he believes that he can continue undeterred.
If he could successfully organize a ‘smart coup de tat’ – attracting him praises from all around the world – there is no reason that he should not also believe that he can equally conduct ‘smart rigging’ – whereby, all the shenanigans of ‘smartly’ violating the country’s electoral and democratic constitutional provisions – without shedding any blood, whilst shrouded in a veneer of democracy and tolerance – will be gladly accepted, with wild congratulations, from the international community.
…even from those better placed to be more impervious to the usual tomfoolery of African politics – such as the EU!
Just as the EU welcomed the recent coup in Zimbabwe, if Mnangagwa plays his cards right – he may just get away with a stolen action, with the EU’s blessings.
Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, author, and speaker. He is the Programmes Director with the Zimbabwe Network for Social Justice (ZimJustice). Please call/WhatsApp: +263782283975, or (calls ONLY): +263715667700, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please also ‘Like’ the ‘ZimJustice’ page on Facebook.