On 16 March Zimbabweans will vote in a referendum on whether to adopt or reject a draft constitution for which the three major political parties have publicly endorsed a Yes vote.
The writing of a new constitution was one of the requirements of the Global Political Agreement (GPA), which formed a power-sharing agreement between President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and the two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), following the violently contested presidential elections of 2008.
After the referendum, Zimbabweans will vote in general elections slated for July, either under a new constitution or the current one.
A large cross-section of society - including women, war veterans and the youth - have given the draft constitution a thumbs up, but Lovemore Madhuku, chairperson of the civil society group National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), said the fact that all three political parties support a Yes vote on the referendum should sound alarm bells.
“The three political parties are seduced by some of the constitutional provisions which safeguard the president from answering questions in parliament," said Madhuku, whose organization is encouraging Zimbabweans to vote No on the new constitution. "The current draft does not change the features of the current constitution in terms of presidential powers; the office will still retain sweeping powers.”
The NCA has approached the Supreme Court to have the date of the referendum postponed, arguing that Zimbabweans have not had enough time to study the draft. The NCA opposed the drafting process from the beginning, saying it should not be led by political parties but by an independent constitutional commission.
Tecla Chisvo, a 55-year-old farmer in Chegutu, Mashonaland West, said she was unhappy with both the process of drafting the new constitution and its final form and would vote against it.
"During outreach and consultation meetings, we were told by political party representatives what to say in terms of what should be contained in the constitution. That obviously meant what we wanted included was not accommodated. Even now, it is political parties that are telling us to vote Yes," said Chisvo.
Jabulani Sibanda, chairperson of the militant National Liberation War Veterans Association, which is closely allied with ZANU-PF, told IRIN that they would vote in favour of the draft.
“There are so many things that we are not happy about in this draft constitution, but like many constitutions or agreements, we have to negotiate with representatives of our former colonizers and the devils amongst ourselves. We will vote Yes in the referendum and allow it to pass because we will win the next elections by a huge majority. We can always make progressive amendments in parliament,” Sibanda said.
The Constitution Select Committee (Copac), a coalition of parlimentary representatives from the three parties, had initially printed only 90,000 copies of the draft constitution for a country with a registered voting population of more than 5 million.
Of that figure, 70,000 were in English and 20,000 in local languages. They also printed 200,000 abridged versions of the draft constitution in the different languages.
Noma Dube, a civil servant in Matabeleland South, told IRIN that rural communities were largely unaware of the impending referendum. "There has not been adequate publicity around it. People have not seen the draft, and because the entire process was politicized, people generally shunned the process and lost interest."
The greatest outcry has come from people living with disabilities. Abraham Mateta, a visually impaired legal expert, told IRIN that Copac had only printed 200 Braille copies of the draft constitution for a population of 40,000 blind people.
“The current draft constitution is a sad reflection of Zimbabwean attitudes towards people with disability," he told IRIN. "To start with, the inputs from people with disabilities during outreach meetings were ignored and welfarist and charity models adopted.”
He said this would relegate people with disabilities to chores such as shoe mending and making baskets.
Said Mateta, “While the draft is clear on what interventions the State should make with groups such as the youth, elderly and war veterans, on disability, it says interventions shall be made subject to availability of funds, which clearly implies that disability is expensive and that disabled people are second class citizens.”