A brick in the face: constitution-making in Zimbabwe

2010-09-21 07:36

Mbare, Zimbabwe – Christine Nkulu learnt first-hand on Sunday how some of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s followers settle constitutional discussions.

With a half-brick in the face.

She and a couple of hundred supporters of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which is in a power-sharing government with Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party, had attended a meeting in Harare’s Mbare township, where citizens were being asked what they would like to see in a new draft constitution.

“Zanu-PF youths arrived and they outnumbered us by five to one,” she said.

“They were carrying iron bars, sticks, axes. They surrounded us and began to beat people, one by one. They beat women and old people.”

Nkulu managed to flee, but a half brick hurled at her from close range caught her just above her left eye, causing it to swell up and turn a painful shade of blue.

It was the last of hundreds of sessions organised by the Constitutional Parliamentary Committee (Copac) since June.

The huge range of opinions expressed are meant to form the basis for drafting a new democratic constitution to replace the flawed constitution used by Mugabe to cement his power over the last 30 years.

Youths take over

But meetings all over Harare at the weekend were broken up or had to be abandoned as mobs of youths took over the process.

Witnesses at the Mbare meeting claimed the mobs had been bussed in from remote rural areas.

“A lot of them were soldiers in civilian clothes,” one observer said. “They stand out from the ordinary people. Their heads are shaved, they have a military bearing.”

At one meeting, a Zanu-PF supporter reportedly pulled out a pistol when other speakers spoke in support of a free media and property rights. People fled in terror.

At another, a Zanu-PF youth is said to have opened the meeting with a prayer “God, kill those who are sellouts,” apparently referring to supporters of the MDC, which Mugabe accuses of selling out to the West.

In rural areas, the meetings were mostly run by chiefs and headmen, who are usually loyal to Zanu-PF, with groups of intimidating youths or secret police reportedly often present.

Ten years ago, when Zimbabwe was drafting a new constitution, the mood was very different.

In the absence of repression, public consultations became emotionally-charged platforms for citizens demanding change.

“Mugabe learnt his lesson then,” said a Western diplomat. “They weren’t going to let a repeat of that happen.”

The final draft of the constitution is to be submitted to a referendum, and if approved, will be the foundation for what the MDC hopes will be free and fair elections.

Many still afraid

Tsvangirai told reporters in Johannesburg last week he believed citizens could be voting on the next text by May or June and that elections could be held soon afterwards, once the two parties had agreed on the ground rules, including no violence.

But many people still fear a repeat of the violence that characterized the 2008 polls.

“We are all afraid, we cannot have elections,” said Nkulu. “They will kill us. They have told us.”

In 2008, Zanu-PF militia and soldiers avenged Mugabe’s defeat by Tsvangirai in the first round of presidential elections by unleashing fierce violence against MDC supporters, killing scores of people and injuring hundreds more.

To help end the violence and kickstart the wrecked economy, Tsvangirai agreed in September 2008 to share power with Mugabe on condition of sweeping human rights reforms, most of which have yet to be implemented.

 

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