By Sharon Hofisi
Today is Uhuru in Zimbabwe. April 18, 2018 is a landmark date for Zimbabwe. This is her 38th birthday or anniversary from colonial repression. There is plenty to write about the birthday girl or grand book called Zimbabwe; some good and bad. Many have been reading this book for the past years; 37 of which Zimbabwe was under the rule of former president Robert Mugabe.
While it is fashionable to talk of political tolerance under the current political dispensation led by President Emmerson
Mnangagwa, I want to concentrate on constitutional fundamentals. I take an interest in freedom in its broad sense so that, although at one time we didn’t get beyond a culture of open debate on political and governance matters, many can now speak about such issues, critique the Government openly; tick the good and bad boxes openly; access information held by the State; engage with the ruling elite through a seemingly open door policy and so forth.
While this year has been declared a “Year of the People”, we must also not forget that the independence fire is burning in its small workspace. It’s not a false fire that is burning. When the Republican President lights the Independence Flame today, we know it simply epitomises how we must extol and exalt those who fought for our hard-won independence.
We say no to independence without freedom in any front. We cherish our constitutional democracy which we have placed ourselves in the grand norm. Zimbabwe, where I live and am a citizen, is a democratic republic, with a history of being a jewel for Africa.
Not long ago, the freedom fighters fought to assert the right to self-determination and independence. The two aspects are a priority for this nation’s progress in the political, social, economic and legal spheres. During the liberation struggle, emphasis was placed on the desirability of independence from colonialism. Several events that bear on the realisation of the right to self-determination and independence can be mentioned in quick form.
They include the First and Second Chimurenga/Umvukela; the dissolution of the Federation between the two Rhodesias and Nyasaland in 1963; the non-recognition of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence under Ian Smith; the imposition of full embargo on Rhodesian trade by Britain in 1966; the adoption of the NIBMAR principle (No independence without black majority rule); the ZIPRA and Umkhonto weSizwe Wankie Campaign in 1967; the Geneva Conference to negotiate black majority rule in 1976, to the time when ZANU won the British-supervised elections in 1980.
We also witnessed several threats to our constitutional democracy especially after the turn of the millennium: political intolerance; land struggles; family displacement under Operation Murambatsvina; the acrimony surrounding the June 2008 Presidential run-off which culminated in a Government of National Unity; human insecurity and so forth.
Predictably, the zenith of our freedom came in the form of a homegrown Constitution that we adopted in 2013. It replaced the ceasefire charter in the form of the 1980 Constitution and progressively entrenched the gains of the liberation struggle and various other non-negotiable assertions from the generality of Zimbabweans: the sovereignty of the people; the national objectives in many areas; a broad Bill of Rights; liberalisation of the legal standing in enforcing justiciable rights; need for devolution and so forth.
We had never dreamt of easy access to information. Yet journalists in the private and State-owned media houses can now freely practise balanced reporting because they largely have the information. They are neither muzzled nor gagged when reporting about governance issues. Freedom of the media is one of the constitutional fundamentals on good governance.
We can monitor media reports on Zimbabwe’s governance trajectory: for instance, we know that the voice of the people is being treated by the Government in power as the voice of God. Put differently, there is recognition of popular sovereignty and sovereignty of the Godhead.
That aside, there are several constitutional gains: political rights and multi-party democracy take the lead with 118 political parties competing for the State House seat. Further, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, an independent commission supporting democracy is now in full control of what political parties and information or media houses can give us to consume during the electoral period.
Admittedly and sadly, we still lag behind in some crucial areas: electoral reforms; voter confidence; implementation of provisions on devolution; implementation of executive mayoral positions in metropolitan cities such as Harare and Bulawayo; dealing effectively with our grim past in a manner that brings forgiveness and healing; and so forth.
As a united people, the Constitution tells us of something about its supremacy; our founding values and principles among such other important normative principles. Let us think together for a little about upholding the letter, spirit and purpose of the grand norm, our mother law, all for the good of our polity.
While we are possibly ensconced in the spirit of an open for engagement political era, let’s remember that we can only make headway in promoting our democracy if we respect its tenets such as the rule of law; human rights; separation of powers; supremacy of the Constitution; and so forth.
Harambee, indeed unity is power and we must all watch our democracy, fundamental rights and freedoms taking shape as we strive to make Zimbabwe a haven of sustainable peace, and love.
Sharon Hofisi is a lecturer in Law and Public Administration.