Lessons from Zimbabwe

A man holding a flag of Zimbabwe takes part in a demonstration of University of Zimbabwe’s students, on November 20, 2017 in Harare, to demand the withdrawal of Grace Mugabe’s doctorate and refused to sit their exams as pressure builds on Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe to resign.Zimbabwe’s President faced the threat of impeachment by his own party on November 20, 2017, after his shock insistence he still holds power in Zimbabwe despite a military takeover and a noon deadline to end his 37-year autocratic rule./ AFP PHOTO / –


Recently, I had to research Zimbabwe. One document I had to study was the Zimbabwean 2013 Constitution. Like almost everything about Zimbabwe, I was shocked. That constitution must be one of the most progressive constitutions I have ever seen. Apart from it affirming the well-known gender-friendly disposition of Zimbabwe, it captures in one document many of the provisions our people are beating themselves up on whether to include in our constitution. It provides for five tiers of government and accepts 16 languages, including Sign Language, as officially recognised languages of Zimbabwe. Sign Language! How progressive! The constitution provides that the document MUST be translated into all these languages, widely distributed and be taught as part of the curricula in schools and training of security services.

It provides that “The state and all institutions and agencies of government at every level must endeavour to facilitate and take measures to empower, through appropriate, transparent, fair and just affirmative action, all marginalised persons, groups and communities in Zimbabwe.” On gender balance, it provides, among other measures, for both genders to be equally represented in all institutions and agencies of government at every level; and women constitute at least half the membership of all commissions and other elective and appointed governmental bodies.

A long list of social RIGHTS we are striving to make justice-able here are enshrined in the Zimbabwean constitution. Rights, not just non-effectual principles, as laid out our own constitution, are what we have here. Express provisions are made for the rights of children, women, the disabled, the elderly and the veterans of the liberation struggle. Citizens are guaranteed right to basic state-funded education and access to basic health-care services.” The state must take all practical measures to promote (a) free and compulsory basic education for children…The state must take appropriate, fair and reasonable measures to ensure that no person is refused emergency medical treatment at any health institution.”

Also provided for: “Every person living with a chronic illness has the right to have access to basic healthcare services for the illness. “Even with respect to freedom of expression and access to information, there are constitutional guarantees here over and above what our Freedom of Information Act gives us. “Every person is entitled to freedom of the media, which freedom includes Protection of the Confidentiality of Journalists’ Sources of Information.” Access to information: “Every Zimbabwean citizen or permanent resident, including juristic persons and the Zimbabwean media, has the right of access to any information held by the state or by any institution or agency of government at every level, in so far as the information is required in the interests of public accountability.

Every person, including the Zimbabwean media, has the right of access to any information held by any person, including the state, in so far as the information is required for the exercise or protection of a right. Every person has a right to the correction of information, or the deletion of untrue, erroneous or misleading information, which is held by the state or any institution or agency of the government at any level, and which relates to that person.” There are so many other provisions which, for me, qualifies this as one of the most progressive and contemporary constitutions I have ever seen.

There is a two-term limit for the president. So, obviously, the problem with Zimbabwe, at least post-2013, cannot be the Constitution. How have some insistently argued that the problem is with our constitution, the 1999 Constitution, even when some of us have said it is less about the constitution and the system but how we, as a people, have applied ourselves to the system and the constitution in our hands. After all, some countries are successfully powering their systems on the back of a largely unwritten constitution.

How I wish it is that simple. How I wish it is just about the Constitution. As progressive as the Zimbabwean constitution is, difficult to say same with the politics that produced the constitution or has continued to be powered by it. Since we are so convinced that our problem is our constitution and we are so determined to amend it, is it possible for the lawmakers to go back and examine the Zimbabwean constitution.

If only some of these progressive provisions therein can be incorporated to make some of the basic social rights justice-able, then one can forgive them for the hundreds of millions wasted, over the years, on amendment of the constitution and obscene allowances earned by the lawmakers. Zimbabwe has a good document here. The extent to which it made a positive impact on quality of life in the country, I do not know. But therein are provisions that speak to some of what we need and we will better off incorporating into ours.
Olorunfemi works for Hoofbeatdotcom, a Nigerian communications consultancy

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Zimbabwean constitution


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