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Douglas Mwonzora on Question Time: Part 2

Given the heated debate over the draft constitution produced by the three parties in the coalition government, COPAC co-chair Douglas Mwonzora (MDC-T) defends his party’s position on the draft.

MDC-T national spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora
MDC-T national spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora

In Part 2 of this interview with SW Radio Africa journalist Lance Guma he responds to accusations that they sold out on some of the concessions they made to ZANU PF, for example, presidential powers, dual citizenship, devolution and the diaspora vote.

Interview broadcast 22 August 2012

Lance Guma: Good evening and thank you for joining me once again on Question Time. This is Part Two of our continuing discussion with Douglas Mwonzora, one of the co-chairs of the Constitutional Select Committee that came up with the draft constitution that is currently of course the subject of heated debate.

Some quarters believe the draft constitution ignores the fact that Zimbabweans in the outreach exercise, said they wanted a president without executive powers.

Blessing Vava from the National Constitutional Assembly said for example – it is clear that the president is still the head of state, head of government and commander-in-chief of the defence forces, he is still not liable to any criminal court procedure for crimes committed in office and he’s still the one appointing and dismissing key public figures in government.

Douglas Mwonzora: Well firstly you, that question is from a very, very biased quarter. It is from the National Constitutional Assembly who said they were going to vote no even before the constitution was written so they are searching for reasons to dismiss the constitution but let me do justice to the question raised by Blessing.

Obviously he has not read the constitution, that is very, very clear because under this constitution we have a president who has got executive power but this president is an accountable president.

For example, unlike the previous president, by president I mean the office, unlike the previous president, he exercises power, this president exercises power together with the cabinet. So this president is accountable.

The second difference is that when it comes to a declaration of war, the president under the old constitution would act alone; under the new constitution he needs the approval of parliament. When it comes to the prerogative of mercy, the president does not act alone, he acts with parliament.

When it comes to appointment of judges, again the judges are subjected to a public interview and the posts are advertised and the best the president can do is to nominate and his nominees are subjected to public interview before appointment.

So there’s a lot of difference between the president then and the president now and it is not true that in the outreach people wanted a titular president. Some people wanted a titular president but the majority of people wanted an executive but accountable president.

That is what the data said. The data does not say a titular president and it is not sensible in a country like Zimbabwe to have a titular president so the constitution, the people said they wanted an executive president whose powers were checked and balanced. That’s what we sought to do.

Guma: Former diplomat Clifford Mashiri says – in view of the fact that Zanu PF would like to renegotiate extensively and if possible introduce new issues, the MDC formations should stop wasting time engaging in the blame game and seize the opportunity to amend their own mistakes which caused an outrage.

He argues that, and I quote – “behind closed doors, your members and civil society activists are angry at what they see as a betrayal on devolution, Gukurahundi, 2008 violence, land seizures without compensation, disenfranchisement of exiles and a vague reference to dual citizenship and many others.”

Mwonzora: Ah well again this is a manifestation of a person who has not read the constitution or if they have read it they have not understood it. Let me go to issue of citizenship: yes a constitution is about interpretation of course. The constitution makes it clear that only for citizens by birth, by descent or by registration can parliament limit the rights to dual citizenship. What does that mean?

That means citizens by birth can have dual citizenship. Again the constitution says that every Zimbabwean citizen has equal rights; it goes on to say that one of the rights that every Zimbabwean has is the right to vote. Now it leaves it there. That means a Zimbabwean everywhere, everywhere on this planet is able to vote, has got that right.

We can’t write in the constitution to say a Zimbabwean in Nyanga, and a Zimbabweans in Tsholotsho, and a Zimbabwean in Johannesburg, and a Zimbabwean in London has a right to vote, no we can’t write it like that.

Guma: But why be vague Mr Mwonzora? Why not clearly state that Zimbabwe permits dual citizenship; only in exceptions a, b, c, and make it very clear because you do know the history behind this contentious issue, people would have liked to see this spelt out clearly and not to imply it in a constitution.

Mwonzora: It’s a question of drafting style. This is an expert area, it’s a question of drafting style. What is important is not how it is written it is what it means which is important. What it means is that dual citizenship by birth is there. The only citizenship limitable is the citizenship by registration and by descent.

This is exactly the same wording in the Namibian constitution, it’s nothing new so what is important is what it says. Then coming to the issue of devolution – again devolution is there in the constitution. There’s a provincial government, there is a governor who comes from the party with the majority of the seats in the region.

There is an area of jurisdiction of the provincial government and the area of jurisdiction is social and economic development and then there is a provincial structure that does that. That is devolution of power to the provinces. There are many models to devolution.

Now when our people talked about wanting devolution they did not talk about the modules so the module that we put is the module that was acceptable to everyone but the most important thing is that devolution is there. Now let me come to the issue of the negotiation – that we should re-open and so on. No the MDC can’t do that.

The MDC respects two fundamental issues: the first one is that it respects the will of the people of Zimbabwe which can be against its own philosophy. The second one is that it respects the negotiation that it entered in good faith. Now we made concessions, we entered into this negotiation in good faith and where we gave our word we cannot go back behind our own word and say we have thought better, we want to change the stance and so on.

No we can’t do that because we were negotiating in good faith and we cannot negotiate in good faith twice. We have explained to our membership in the MDC that is why our national executive blessed the document.

Our national council blessed the document because what they see is that it provides incremental gain in the democratization of Zimbabwe. It is not a perfect document but it is a document that is the best document so far since 1896 and they want to take advantage of what it provides.

It has many, many, many, many positives that they can ill-afford to lose.

Guma: As the MDC, are there clauses in this draft constitution that you accepted grudgingly? Are there clauses that you would point out and say we were not happy with this but we just conceded because this is what our partners wanted?

Mwonzora: Well certainly the clauses on land, on agricultural land were not as elegant as we would have wanted as the MDC; also we wanted more parliamentary involvement in appointments, in the making of key appointments we wanted that; we also would have wanted a more, less acerbic clauses on certain areas in the Bill of Rights.

We also would have wanted a president, a disqualification of a president who has already served for more than ten years before the promulgation of this constitution but we looked at the bigger picture. We looked at what this constitution provides:

There is dual citizenship for Zimbabweans by birth, there is freedom, there is free, there is a right to vote for every citizen including citizens in the Diaspora, there is a constitutional court, there is a national prosecuting authority and there is a good method of appointment of judges, a transparent method of appointing judges.

A president can no longer declare war on his own so all those were positive things; there’s devolution and so on. All those things were positive things that if they are implemented carry Zimbabwe forward.

Guma: On Face Book, probably our last question Audrey Charova Perazim on Face Book says if this new constitution is approved and the MDC wins the election next year are there any plans to change the provisions that currently allow political violence perpetrators to get off scot-free? And additional questions from other people who say they were not happy with the way you dealt with the issues of Gukurahundi and the 2008 political violence.

Mwonzora: They are mixing two things, with the greatest of respect they are mixing two things. They are mixing the constitution draft and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Bill.

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Bill which was passed in parliament has a cut off date and therefore limits the investigation of human rights only to periods after 2009, February 2009.

But if you read the constitution draft, it provides for a Human Rights Commission that investigates human rights abuses; it does not have a cut-off date in the constitution. Therefore, issues that they are talking about are dealt with. Then the other important thing is that there is the Truth, sorry there is the Peace and Reconciliation Commission whose functions include to ensure post-conflict justice.

Now all that deals with the areas that my sister Audrey is worried about. So I encourage Zimbabweans to read this constitution and really understand it because there is clear evidence of people who are not reading it and so on, so all those areas are dealt with.

Of course we cannot write in the constitution to say there was Gukurahundi, there was Murambatsvina, there was 2008 election. You can’t write that in the constitution.

But what you do, is you provide generic definition, generic term like ‘conflict’ because Gukurahundi was a conflict and so on and then you also provide that those conflicts will be investigated and there shall be post-conflict justice. All that has been taken care of.

Guma: Well Zimbabwe that’s one of the co-chairs of the Constitutional Parliamentary Select Committee, he is also the member of parliament for Nyanga North and also spokesperson for the MDC led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, that’s Douglas Mwonzora joining us on Question Time. Mr Mwonzora that you so much for your time.

Mwonzora: Thank you.

You can listen to the interview here:

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