By Andrew Kunambura
The country is hurtling towards establishing a life presidency amid plans by ZANU-PF to amend its constitution as a precursor to the amendment of the national charter so that it conforms to the party’s aspirations.
According to party insiders, ZANU-PF wants to do away with the two-term presidential limit introduced by the unity government as part of the negotiated new Constitution in 2013 to enable the incumbent to become a de-facto life president.
At its congress in December 2014, ZANU-PF delegates unanimously agreed that President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since the attainment of black majority rule in April 1980, would be the party’s presidential candidate for as long as he lives, although the national charter permits him to run for only two terms.
Having secured victory at the 2013 polls, the ZANU-PF leader who turned 92 on February 21 can only run for one other term, starting in 2018. To get around the blockade, ZANU-PF mandarins are moving to tweak with the supreme law of the land for the first time since it became operational using their overwhelming majority in Parliament.
As part of the amendments to the party’s constitution, a clause affirming the ZANU-PF Women’s League’s resolution presented at the party’s annual people’s conference last December would be inserted to accommodate a woman in the presidium.
The current Constitution states that the President can appoint two deputies without specifically stating that one should be a woman. Currently, all positions in the party’s presidium, comprising the President and his two vice presidents are occupied by men, with the exception of the national chairmanship, which is currently vacant.
At the party’s 2014 congress, President Mugabe delegated his two deputies to discharge the functions of the national chair on a rotational basis. The party, however, faces many legal and administrative hurdles in its quest to amend the Constitution.
For any constitutional amendment to sail through the National Assembly, it must be voted for by a two thirds majority.
Already, the move has met stiff resistance from Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s allies, who are convinced that the gender parity clause could be meant to take out of the succession race the man they would want to succeed President Mugabe.
Mnangagwa’s allies, known by their code name, Team Lacoste, are currently running scared after they were outsmarted by a rival faction known by the moniker, Generation 40 (G40), through suspensions and dismissals of key members.
The purging spree recently targeted one of Mnangagwa’s critical allies, Chris Mutsvangwa, who was suspended from the Politburo and fired from government over his verbal onslaught on members of G40.
Despite the setback, Team Lacoste is still in control of both the party and government legal functions, with Mnangagwa overseeing the Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Ministry.
Apparently, Mnangagwa took over as Vice President following the expulsion of Joice Mujuru, who has now formed her own political outfit, Zimbabwe People First.
When Mujuru assumed the position in 2004, the Women’s League had pushed for representation in the presidium, thwarting Mnangagwa who was within the cusp of landing the post at the party’s congress that year.
The clause was to be scrapped off at the 2014 congress to facilitate Mnangagwa’s rise.
Another potential hurdle is the uncertainty surrounding the true status of ZANU-PF’s majority in Parliament where many of its Members of Parliament are said to be aligned to Mujuru.
This particularly applies to some of the sitting lawmakers who are serving various suspension periods imposed on them for hobnobbing with Mujuru. Another complication regards the pro-Mnangagwa legislators who could work to frustrate the process, among them Justice Mayor Wadyajena.
Regardless, G40 strategists are determined to push through the amendments by any means possible, damn the consequences. This won’t be the first time that ZANU-PF has resorted to tinkering with the national charters to push through its agenda.
The negotiated Lancaster House constitution, for example, was amended more than 19 times before it was succeeded by the current charter.
ZANU-PF’s deputy secretary for legal affairs, Paul Mangwana, professed ignorance over the matter, referring questions to his boss, Patrick Chinamasa, who could not be reached for comment as his mobile phone went unanswered.
“I am not aware of those developments. You can check with my senior, Cde Chinamasa. As for me, I am yet to be informed,” he said.
Mangwana was instrumental in crafting the national charter as co-chairperson of the Parliamentary Constitutional Select Committee (COPAC), which spearheaded the constitution-making process at a cost of over US$100 million.
While the former indigenisation minister this week said there was nothing amiss with the current Constitution, he does not see anything wrong either with amending it to suit ZANU-PF’s interests.
“What I know is that we did a good job for the nation to produce that document. It was approved by 94 percent of the country’s population, which means it was accepted. But you need to understand that it was a negotiated settlement made during the inclusive government and there was need to compromise some aspects.
“One party would have wanted everything to go their way and now that (ZANU-PF) have got an overwhelming Parliamentary representation, they (may) want to alter some provisions, which is permissible,” Mangwana said.
ZANU-PF spokesperson, Simon Khaya-Moyo, referred questions to Chinamasa, saying: “He would be best positioned to comment on that.”
The governing party’s plot could potentially set off a firestorm of opposition from rival political parties and civil society groups.
Former COPAC co-chair, Douglas Mwonzora, who is Movement for Democratic Change secretary general, said the party would resist any attempts to tinker with the Constitution.
Said Mwonzora: “Around the world, this Constitution is being touted as one of the best as it protects fundamental human rights and so any attempt to try and change it is tantamount to bringing back dictatorship: We will resist such moves legally and extra-legally.”
People’s Democratic party spokesman, Jacob Mafume, concurred with Mwonzora.
“Tinkering with the Constitution is a path where we have been before and we do not want to go down that road (again). Their claim that it’s expensive is their thin excuse for failing to grow the economy. It’s a cynical and diabolical move which we will challenge vigorously in all platforms,” said Mafume.
National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) leader, Lovemore Madhuku, whose party campaigned against the Constitution in the run up to the referendum, said although their view remained that it was a bad Constitution, they would not allow ZANU-PF to tamper with it.
“Our view as NCA is that this is not a democratic constitution which is why we campaigned for a no vote. There are many provisions of the Constitution that are very bad. However, we do not agree that it should just be ZANU-PF talking about it. Any process of amending it must be people driven,” he said.
Human Rights NGO Forum director, Lloyd Kuveya, said the current Constitution seeks to increase accountability by limiting the excesses of the Executive and government, which is a major step in the right direction.
“We are therefore worried by the proposal by the ruling party to reverse that gain. Sadly, this is the tragedy of our nation…We must resist a reversal of the outcome of a very expensive and painful constitution-making process,” said Kuveya. Financial Gazette