Bishop Magaya on Rules for our Rulers
Interview broadcast 03/08/09
As Zimbabwe struggles towards a new constitution, SW Radio Africa in conjunction with Zimbabwe Democracy Now, bring you Rules for our Rulers, a programme that gives you the chance to air your views on the constitution you want. We speak to the youth, women, churches, politicians and civil society groups working in and outside Zimbabwe. Rules for our Rulers….telling politicians what you want.
Lance Guma: Maswera sei mhuri ye Zimbabwe, we welcome you to Rules for our Rulers, a programme where we are looking at the crafting of a new constitution and giving various groups the platform to have their say. This week we speak to Bishop Ancelimo Magaya from the Christian Alliance. Bishop, thank you very much for joining us on the programme.
Bishop Ancelimo Magaya: You’re welcome.
Lance: Now just recently you took part in the Mass Public Opinion Institute’s monthly forum on the 29th of July and this was really a debate on whether or not the new constitution process represented a false start. Now opening remarks, Bishop Magaya, what do you make of the process so far?
Magaya: OK, I think the process so far, as far as I’m concerned, in the circumstances that are prevailing, the current process that we have, I’m sure, is the only possible practical way forward. Of course I am quite cognizant of the fact that people have various views regarding that and there are others who would have felt that these processes should not have involved the government at all because they argue from the theory that the politicians of the day should not take part or should not be predominant in the writing of the constitution and therefore they feel that people must wholly own this process and by that they mean that it should be strictly civic society and other various stakeholders, apart from the government.
So you have on one hand that extreme point, but you also have on the other hand another possible extreme view which would have wanted to see the executive really driving this process. And I think that this process that we have which I dub the ‘middle of the road’ approach is the best in the circumstances prevailing where we have at least a kind of combination of the two. We have the parliament which is the only democratic institute that we have in Zimbabwe currently, facilitating this process and I believe that, as of now that is the ideal practical situation.
Lance: Now those who are opposed to that type of process Bishop Magaya are saying if you leave it to the politicians there will be no control of the final product by ordinary people so their reservations are drawn from that.
Magaya: That argument is well understandable, especially that we are coming from a background where that has happened before, I mean 1999 and 2000, we have the same sort of thing happening where the government was actually driving this process and then one of the reasons why it is called people rejected that constitution is that one, people felt that it was driven from the executive but also secondly, there are certain commissioners that were part of this process that disassociated themselves. Why – because they felt that the end result of that process was actually doctored, what they had seen was not, as far as they were concerned, was not what they initially crafted in there.
So of course you understand, I think so what? Given if the politicians actually control, so what, does this mean we should then withdraw and actually leave it wholly to them? I think that we should fight to ensure that that does not happen. I was actually arguing last Thursday that the select committee, which I’m sure so far has done fairly well despite the disruptions from various quarters, politicians, Zanu-PF in particular, they have attempted to disrupt this process because I don’ think the hard-liners within Zanu-PF are keen for the writing of the constitution.
They have done so well and I was arguing then that look, the All Stakeholders Conference should be the supreme organ in this process, where we have that organ determining and defining in every minutest detail how this process must unfold and one of the demands that we have to make is that. We don’t want any member within the executive or any parliamentarian to alter even in a minute fraction of that draft once we are done with the consultations. Once the All Stakeholders have said yes this is what we have agreed on and then the Select Committee submits their draft report and then straight we go to the referendum.
Lance: But confusing the whole issue, I think one aspect that has really muddied the waters here a little bit is the Kariba Draft. Now we know Robert Mugabe has already told his Zanu-PF central committee that the Kariba Draft should form the basis of a framework for a new constitution, we’ve also heard the State-owned Herald newspaper publishing the Kariba Draft, so there are worries from a lot of quarters that this whole constitutional process is nothing but a sham to smuggle the Kariba draft into the constitution.
Magaya: As I said already, again the cynics, the suspicions are well understandable. Number one because Zanu-PF is not to be trusted, they have shifted goal posts at time without …(inaudible) and I’m sure nobody should actually trust them, but equally so if the fact that we don’t trust them should not mean that we should actually give up and allow them to run an open cheque with peoples’ lives. What I’m very certain of is that the Kariba document is the desire of Zanu-PF and of course in a democratic society it is their right to campaign for Kariba document but they should equally so not be allowed to impose the Kariba document onto the populace of Zimbabwe.
And one of the things…(inaudible)…Zimbabweans are still slaves to the past, slaves to the history. Mugabe says something at a central committee meeting or political meeting of Zanu-PF and they should not confuse that as an official statement of the government. He is speaking from the viewpoint of the president of a political party which is not necessarily the government. Don’t you forget that after having said that, he is having to meet about 52 members of cabinet who would look at him in the face and say no to what he is talking about. So people should not be scared simply because the State (owned) Herald has pontificated on the Kariba document, or Mugabe has pre-empted whatever this process and say this Kariba document – that is his opinion and he is one of the Zimbabweans but that should not be taken as the gospel regarding the writing the constitution.
Lance: Now groups like the NCA have taken the position to completely boycott; I did speak to Munyaradzi Gwisai a couple of weeks ago and the position of their own organisation, the Democratic United Front is that they will participate under protest. Now is there a feeling, listening to you talking, saying we should use this chance, is there a feeling that government has in a sense, bullied people into accepting this process, although it’s not what they really would have wanted, in terms of the civil society groups, it’s not really what they would have wanted but they have simply been bullied into accepting this?
Magaya: Yah, one would say yes, the people might have been bullied but I don’t think the fact that they have accepted to actually participate, albeit of course under protest, does mean that we have accepted the bullying. It simply is an acknowledgement of the fact that the reality on the ground is that Zanu-PF still holds a sizeable amount of power and the only thing that they would want is for the people to boycott this whole process and then of course we’d delay, we’d delay the process of change.
But we are saying look remember 29th March in 2008, people spoke with clarity in an environment that was not conducive to free and fair elections. Of course we appreciate that it was relatively free in comparison with 27th June non event but we have said despite that environment which is not quite ideal, despite the process that is not ideal, we will go on, we will mobilise the people and the will of God as will be expressed in the will of the people, will prevail and this I can assure you despite the circumstances obtaining.
Lance: Now at this Mass Public Opinion Institute Forum, you gave an overview of the history of Zimbabwe’s constitution, before of course looking at the potential benefits and pitfalls in the current process, so I have to ask this question – do you think the ‘vote no’ campaign that was run by the NCA in 2000 was a mistake?
Magaya: I wouldn’t say that was a mistake really, I think that was a very clear political statement. Why – because it was run by one party, it was a sort of one party activity. Of course it has its own consequences in that it has somewhat delayed certain processes of change but I think we have had to count our losses in principle and I wouldn’t want to suggest that it was really a mistake, not at all. Look, people had to make a statement, number one it was wholly run by Zanu-PF and we also had to test our ground, rather to test the waters for possibility of change.
So it was quite providential and necessary there. But now there has been reconfiguration, things have changed and there are many more players, men and women of integrity that are now part and parcel of this process and we need to understand that the MDC does not have a total control of this, but we need to take advantage of the slight window of opportunity that has opened up to actually ensure that the will of the people will prevail.
Lance: Is there a big worry that there has been a lot of focus on the process rather than the content? Are we not being waylaid into looking…
Magaya: Precisely. Precisely that. I think we have also made reference to what has happened in other countries, for example South Africa. Look we have had politicians involved and they did not even hold a referendum but they have a probably an ideal constitution so wasting time on process as opposed to content, it’s like chasing a rat that has entered a house when the house is burning and we actually waste energy and resources on minors and rather majoring on the minors and minoring on the majors.
Lance: In terms of what we should have in this whole new constitution, getting to specifics, the content that we’re talking about, what sort of things would an organisation like the one that you represent, the Christian Alliance, what sort of things would you want in a new constitution?
Magaya: Right, what we would want in a new constitution has, and of course I appreciate the fact that a lot of these things are going to be quite reactionary but I also believe that they are going to be timeless in terms of their value and application. But what really we are keen on is things surrounding electoral and electoral processes in our country which have really been abused to favour a different side but also the excessive powers on the part of the office of the president, we would want a situation where power is separated, and that for us is going to be very critical, but also human rights, human rights, the upholding of human rights where people are allowed to associate freely.
For us these are critical and fundamental issues that we feel would be non-negotiable. In other words, we want this constitution to be able to address the processes of structural power. We don’t want people to hold onto power even though when people no longer want them.
Lance: Now I had one interesting interview some time ago with Dr Alex Magaisa who had written an article entitled ‘A new constitution will not save Zimbabwe’. Now his argument is that there’s an obsession with the constitution as a panacea to everything, saying what is needed is a respect for constitutions rather than really looking at a new constitution in itself. For example the current constitution, if respected, guarantees a lot of freedoms. So it’s all about respect for a new constitution or respect for a constitution rather than just having a new constitution for the sake of having a new one.
Magaya: Exactly, this is what we call constitutionalism – the way in which people interact to the constitution, the way they uphold that which is enshrined and contained in the constitution. You know it is not the constitution alone that actually makes things right. I have actually heard people, even in some of these organisations, people actually change the constitution for purposes of what, their own personal gain, so really you are right, I agree with Dr Alex Magaisa, that yes, it’s not only the constitution that is important but also respect for it. But we’ve got to have a starting point, where we in the first place have to have a good constitution and then we begin to move onto the next level where we fight and defend that constitution and ensure that we are ready to die for it in the event that somebody would want to abuse it and so forth.
Lance: My final question Bishop Magaya, constitutions are very technical creatures, I mean if you were to be going out in the rural areas, outreach programmes would people there really understand what’s happening, what sort of input they should give, what is a constitution, what is a constitution meant to be doing – is that not quite a challenge for this process?
Magaya: Of course it is but I think we can demystify some of these concepts. People know what happened to them last year, they were beaten, battered, bruised and so forth and then we told them to explain the constitutional issues vis-à-vis, I mean their experiences. The fact that they have been abused, they have been tortured, simply because that party did not have rightful respect for the constitution. So you try to demystify the complex concepts of the constitutional issues and try to bring it home where people really understand it. And I’m sure it’s going to be a bit tough but I think also it is not insurmountable.
Lance: That there is Bishop Ancelimo Magaya speaking to us on Rules for the Rulers and he of course is from the Christian Alliance. Bishop Magaya thank you very much for joining us on the programme.
Magaya: Thank you very much my brother, God bless you.