EARLY this week, Zimbabweans woke up to pictures of two beautiful Tsholotsho twins. They were conjoined twins, a rare phenomenon that called for urgent attention.
A few days later, news arrived that they had failed to make it. They stood little chance in a country currently plagued by poor health facilities.
But the biggest noise in town was not about the plight of the twins. It was about cars. It was about MPs who wanted cars; MPs who received the cars with much gratitude from their benefactor, ‘Our Governor’ Gideon Gono; MPs who ganged up to refuse to return the cars despite demands from the new Minister of Finance, Tendai Biti.
Apparently, the cars had been lying idle, we were told. They lay idle in a country whose hospitals and clinics are crying out desperately for vehicles to use as ambulances.
But the Governor heard the calls of the MPs. Yes, the MPs’ plight was more important; too important, in fact, to be ignored. So here we are, in a country whose inhabitants wallow in a sea of poverty, the biggest hullabaloo in town is about motor vehicles, not about education, health or welfare.
In the same week, Lovemore Madhuku and the National Constitutional Assembly (‘NCA‘) that he chairs have occupied a great deal of media space. They have been criticised, almost to the point of vilification, for allegedly being unreasonable.
For what crime, one might ask? It is that they have expressed displeasure at the recently announced constitution-making process which is to be led by a Parliamentary Select Committee (‘the Committee’), a process they have vowed to oppose because it does not satisfy their demand for what they call a ‘people-driven constitution’. The amount of vitriol directed against them is staggering, not least because it comes from many sources who swear by democracy.
I may not agree totally with the NCA position on the matter but they have every right to take and campaign for that stance. One of the weaknesses of our political culture is that there is no room for minorities or those who differ. We do not tolerate difference, instead, we try to vilify and subdue those who differ. Hence the many calls for ‘Madhuku and co.’ to shut up. That cannot be right.
Why should they shut up? If people are so confident that Madhuku and co. have lost it, why then should anyone fear them? Surely, the people can judge for themselves without requiring the silencing of Madhuku and co.? The Referendum will come and it will be the ultimate test of the people’s support. So if Madhuku has become a nuisance, as some now allege, let him exercise his right. He is not trampling on anybody’s rights, is he?
It is easy to forget that years ago, women were on the margins of society, deprived of their rights, and those who stood up for women’s rights were viewed with contempt. They dared to be different and they were vilified for it. Today, no reasonable person disagrees with the view of women’s equality. It goes to show that what starts as a minority view is not necessarily wrong.
Politicians, like all human beings, tend to look after Number One - themselves. That is why I recount the contrasting stories of the hullabaloo over MPs’ cars and the apparent silence over the plight of the recently departed conjoined twins. I bet there are many more stories of that nature. But is anyone in that building along Nelson Mandela Street taking notice? Not quite - they are more interested in their automobiles. It is these same people who are supposed to drive the new constitution-making process. Pray that the national interest will be uppermost in their minds when they do it.
Nevertheless, even though I defend their right to be different, if my opinion counted for anything, I would advise the civil society to adopt a different strategy on this occasion. To my mind, campaigning for a ‘No’ vote at this stage is premature. It might be advisable, instead, to participate in the current process having registered their reservations.
It is not unusual for litigants to suspend their legal dispute to negotiate out of court on what is called a ‘without prejudice’ basis. It simply means that you negotiate without necessarily prejudicing your right to proceed through the judicial process if the negotiation fails. Likewise, civil society can play a role but they can always exercise their right to reject the outcome if it is unsatisfactory.
I urge participation for two reasons. First, there is a real risk that a civil society boycott will only give free reign to the politicians to make a constitution that suits them. There is a risk that at the Referendum people will be swayed more by their political allegiance than the content of the constitution.
If civil society leaders come up against the combined force of Zanu PF and the two MDC formations, the latter will triumph in that political contest, just as Zanu PF lost in 2000 to the combined force of the MDC and civil society. This would mean that the resulting constitution would be one that contains little, if any, input from civil society. Trying to change it could take another 30 years or more.
Second, the NCA argument that this is a flawed process will be much strengthened if they participated, enabling them to identify and evidence to the people what exactly is wrong with the process. If they stay away, they will have little to add to their current argument. They should be in there to see exactly what Constitutional Affairs Minister Eric Matinenga really means when he says the Kariba Draft is merely a ‘reference point’.
This is just the way I see it. Civil society probably has good reason to adopt the stance they have taken and they have every right to do as they wish and no one should shut them up simply because they have dared to be different.
Meanwhile, the hullabaloo over MPs cars and the lethargy over the plight of the conjoined twins is a grim reminder of the two worlds that exist in Zimbabwe and good reason why the cries of those who distrust politicians should not be too easily dismissed.
Alex Magaisa is based at, Kent Law School, the University of Kent and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org