MDCs give in
HARARE – MDC leaders Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Industry minister Welshman Ncube have abandoned protests against President Robert Mugabe’s takeover of the constitution-making process from an ever squabbling parliamentary body.
Ncube was the last to yield to Mugabe’s grand plan to hijack the constitution-making process from the legislature and the move effectively means the three Principals will determine what goes into the final draft to be taken to Parliament for rubber-stamping before a referendum is held.
Tsvangirai and Ncube had both claimed earlier that they would not join Mugabe in his plan, but a Cabinet committee has since Monday been steadfastly working to make wide-ranging changes to a draft seen whittling down presidential powers, strengthening the role of Parliament, devolving power and giving more civil liberties.
Ncube, who had earlier said his party will not allow further amendments to the draft to be a “declaration of victory of dictatorship over the people of Zimbabwe”, was forced by his party’s Standing Committee last week on Tuesday to deploy Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga to join the Cabinet taskforce. The taskforce is an organ of the Principals, which Ncube once said would entrench dictatorship.
In a coordinated response to the climbdown, Ncube’s MDC issued an emollient statement claiming that it was doing this “to participate in the process of finding the best and quickest route to having a referendum”, and on the understanding that the Cabinet committee is not a new body: “This (Cabinet) committee is a continuation of work done by Copac.”
This new position flies in the face of public declarations made by Ncube in a series of rallies in Bulawayo recently where he made it clear that his party’s position was that the Principals should not take over the constitutional parliamentary committee (Copac)’s mandate to produce a new constitution.
“We will not agree to Zanu PF’s attempts to change the contents of the constitution, we will not allow them to replace what people want, with what Zanu PF wants because all Zanu PF wants is to turn the national constitution into a Zanu PF manifesto,” Ncube told a rally at Amakhandeni Public Hall on November 18.
“A constitution of a country can never be a manifesto of a particular party but an agreement by all citizens on how they wish to govern and to be governed. We have invited the guarantors of the Global Political Agreement to deal with Zanu PF who are now denying what they had signed and therefore agreed to.”
But Ncube has now dispatched his proxy Misihairabwi-Mushonga to join the seven-member Cabinet committee that is amending the draft, also comprising minister of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs minister Eric Matinenga as convenor and chairperson and two other Cabinet ministers, one from each of the three GPA parties Patrick Chinamasa, and Tendai Biti; and the three Copac co-chairs Douglas Mwonzora, Paul Mangwana and David Coltart, who has been standing in for an ailing Edward Mkhosi.
In the smaller MDC faction’s standing committee meeting last week, members are understood to have told Ncube that there was little to be gained by boycotting the Cabinet taskforce. With Ncube vehemently opposed to the idea and offended at his standing committee’s seeming capitulation to Mugabe’s plan, Ncube restated his opposition but was forced to dispatch Misihairabwi-Mushonga, according to sources.
Tsvangirai also made a dramatic volte face, agreeing to a compromise with Mugabe that enables the 88-year-old leader to have his way even though he has just earlier been pouring scorn on proposals to amend the draft, a move that has met with widespread disapproval domestically and abroad.
Tsvangirai told a rally at Murambinda Growth Point in Buhera on November 17 that he will not countenance re-opening negotiations with Mugabe over the draft saying the draft should head straight to Parliament in line with Article VI of the Global Political Agreement.
“I cannot sit down with Mugabe to discuss the constitution. No, it should go to Parliament not to Tsvangirai and Mugabe,” Tsvangirai said. But both Tsvangirai and Ncube’s proxies have detoured the draft to the executive instead of Parliament, and have been participating in processes to amend the draft.
However, Tsvangirai’s spokesperson William Bango has said it does not matter where the constitution goes from the stakeholders’ conference, given that the Principals still retain the right to direct their legislators what to do even if it was to go to Parliament first.
A confident and ebullient Zanu PF insists the process to amend the draft should be sped up.
The Cabinet taskforce that has hijacked the draft from Parliament started meeting on December 5, with the inaugural meeting attended by Matinenga, Chinamasa, Mangwana, Biti, Mwonzora, Misihairabwi-Mushonga and Coltart.
The Cabinet taskforce failed to meet last week because Chinamasa and Mangwana were tied up with the 13th Zanu PF national people’s conference that started with the Politburo meeting in Harare on Wednesday last week and ended in Gweru over the weekend.
Biti was also away in the UK last week. But the Cabinet committee reconvened on Monday this week, and has been meeting the whole of this week making amendments to the draft. It is believed the hold-up remains only on devolution, the National Prosecuting Authority and dual citizenship, with substantial changes being made to the draft to suit the three Principals’ varied agendas.
Tellingly, though, Mugabe’s declaration has come to pass and many in Zanu PF are delighted at the development, which vindicates analysts’ observations that this constitution will be a negotiated document, and the input of the people will mean little in the end. – Gift Phiri, Political Editor