PRIME Minister Morgan Tsvangirai says he was horrified by 2005 proposals discussed between Zanu PF and MDC MPs to push through constitutional amendments requiring presidential candidates to have university degrees.
The modestly-educated MDC leader fears that the plan was designed to exclude him from running for President.
In a new book, ‘At the Deep End’, Tsvangirai points an accusing finger at Welshman Ncube, who was the party’s secretary general at the time.
He writes: “In June 2005, ... as Zanu PF factions jostled for turf and supremacy, they kept reaching out to Ncube, our weak provinces and some of our members of parliament.
“Other events inside Zanu PF, emanating from parliament, concerned me. For instance, when Joice Mujuru became vice-president, the Women’s University conferred a degree on her in some dubious discipline, claiming she had done a course on a part-time basis and qualified. There was a clear reason for this.
“Soon enough, I was informed of attempts to push through a constitutional amendment requiring any future presidential aspirant to have earned an academic university degree, not merely to be in possession of an honorary one. At the time of Mujuru’s controversial selection, Mugabe had hinted that for her political advancement the sky was now the limit.”
Tsvangirai says the “proposed university degree requirement... was clearly designed to disqualify me from standing in future elections”.
He adds: “To my horror, I was told that the proposal originated from the MDC. I called in [Gibson] Sibanda to enquire about the development and what it meant. He was non-committal, advising me to check with David Coltart, our secretary for legal affairs, but he too was evasive, telling me that details of the Bill were on a compact disk somewhere.”
The degree requirement was later taken out before the Amendment reached parliament, but Tsvangirai says it was one of a chain of events leading up to a split in the party in October 2005.
Coltart has explained how the degree proposal came about.
He said: “A first draft of proposed constitutional amendments was produced by independent lawyers to reflect the views expressed by the people of Zimbabwe during the Constitutional Commission’s work. They were tasked with redrafting the Constitutional Commission constitution so that it reflected what the people wanted, as disclosed to commissioners during their 'outreach' programme in 2000.
The people’s views were detailed in the Commission’s report but many of them were ignored in the draft constitution which the Commission ultimately produced. One of the most widespread and strongly-held views was that there should not be an executive President: the executive arm of government should be under the control of a Prime Minister, while the President should have only ceremonial duties — smiling at people, patting children on the head, greeting foreign dignitaries, and so on.
At the same time, and rather inconsistently, the people felt that the President should have a university degree (see volume 1 of the Commission’s report, page 561). So when these lawyers redrafted the Commission’s constitution, they gave the President minimal powers, just enough to ensure the continuation of government from one administration to the next. They also put in the provision requiring the President to have a university degree.
They recognised that it was not entirely logical to impose academic qualifications on a person whose only real function was to be nice to people, but the qualifications were not completely incompatible with the post and putting them in would not make the constitution unworkable — and anyway it was what the people said they wanted. Hence that provision was put in.
Sheila Jarvis, a board member of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, was already working with others on Constitutional proposals in the lead up to Constitutional Amendment 17. Arnold Tsunga, the Director of ZLHR, and Sheila will confirm that they produced a very detailed package based on the original “What the people want” document – produced in the course of the Constitutional Commission’s work but ignored by it.
ZLHR produced this package for Parliamentarians based on that document. The lawyers’ work in redrafting was therefore not their own – it was based on the “What the people want document” and as far as I understand was part of the ZLHR initiative to stir debate on the issue and to seek some common ground between the NCA draft and the Constitutional Commission’s rejected draft.
To that extent, the constitutional proposal document produced was not an MDC document per se but something that broadly agreed with the MDC’s general constitutional principles but, more to the point, was part of a wider initiative by civil society and lawyers interested in the Constitutional debate to provoke debate.
When I received the first draft from the civic society lawyers, it was on a computer disk. I gave electronic copies to Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube for them to have a look at a week before Amendment 17 was due to be debated. We agreed that in principle, it would be a good idea for us to table the amendments to stimulate debate, knowing that there was no chance of Zanu PF ever accepting the amendments. The same has been done since 2000 – we have consistently tabled amendments to legislation.
When I read the computer version of the document I saw it had the clause referred to above, namely the requirement that the President have a university degree. As that conformed to neither the MDC policy nor my own personal views, I took that clause OUT. The paper version of the amendments tabled in Parliament and handed to each MP clearly has that clause taken OUT by me on MY OWN INITIATIVE.
Furthermore, and in any event, the original offending clause, as clearly demonstrated above, referred to a NON EXECUTIVE PRESIDENT, not an executive President. So it would never have affected Morgan Tsvangirai. Ironically had it not been taken out the person it would most likely have affected within the MDC would have been Vice President Gibson Sibanda! But in any event it was taken out by me as it clearly did not represent MDC policy.”