The referendum – to vote or not

14 03 2013

Referenda (that’s plural of referendum)  are rare in Zimbabwe, unlike in Switzerland where they are distinctly popular. So Saturday’s referendum to accept or discard the new draft constitution should be a big deal but I am predicting the turnout will be poor.

All three of the major political parties have endorsed the draft constitution and are pushing for a yes vote so it’s pretty much fait accompli. I have had a look at the document (easily available online) but at some 88 pages of a pdf file have just cherry-picked the more pertinent points.

Despite being born here I have no birthright to Zimbabwe citizenship:

Chapter 3. Section 36

  1. Persons are Zimbabwean citizens by birth if they are born in Zimbabwe and, when they are born:
    1. either their mother or their father was a Zimbabwean citizen; or
    2. any of their grandparents was a Zimbabwean citizen by birth or descent.

    As both my parents were British I don’t qualify so I have to look under Section 38.

2. Any person who has been continuously and lawfully resident in Zimbabwe for at least ten years, whether before or after the effective date, and who satisfies the conditions prescribed by an Act of Parliament, is entitled, on application, to be registered as a Zimbabwean citizen.

Which seems to indicate that I have to apply! As I already am a citizen under the previous constitution this might not actually apply but I find it amazing that I cannot be a citizen by birth. There cannot be too many countries in the world where this applies.

The death penalty still stands which it did not in a previous version (it has been a long and tortuous path to this version).

Chapter 4. Section 48. Right to life

  1. Every person has the right to life.
  2. A law may permit the death penalty to be imposed only on a person convicted of murder committed in aggravating circumstances, and:
    1. the law must permit the court a discretion whether or not to impose the penalty;
    2. the penalty may be carried out only in accordance with a final judgment of a competent court;
    3. the penalty must not be imposed on a person:the penalty must not be imposed or carried out on a woman;  and
      1. who was less than twenty-one years old when the offence was committed;  or
      2. who is more than seventy years old;
    4. the penalty must not be imposed or carried out on a woman;  and
    5. the person sentenced must have a right to seek pardon or commutation of the penalty from the President.

    I do find it bizarre that the death penalty cannot be carried out on a woman – surely this is preferential treatment and not “equality”.

Under section 72. Rights to Agricultural Land:

  1. Where agricultural land, or any right or interest in such land, is required for a public purpose, including:
    1. settlement for agricultural or other purposes;
    2. land reorganisation, forestry, environmental conservation or the utilisation of wild life or other natural resources; or
    3. the relocation of persons dispossessed as a result of the utilisation of land for a purpose referred to in subparagraph (a) or (b);

    the land, right or interest may be compulsorily acquired by the State by notice published in the Gazette identifying the land, right or interest, whereupon the land, right or interest vests in the State with full title with effect from the date of publication of the notice.

  2. Where agricultural land, or any right or interest in such land, is compulsorily acquired for a purpose referred to in subsection (2):All agricultural land which:
    1. no compensation is payable in respect of its acquisition, except for improvements effected on it before its acquisition;
    2. no person may apply to court for the determination of any question relating to compensation, except for compensation for improvements effected on the land before its acquisition, and no court may entertain any such application; and
    3. the acquisition may not be challenged on the ground that it was discriminatory in contravention of section 56.
    1. was itemised in Schedule 7 to the former Constitution; or
    2. before the effective date, was identified in terms of section 16B(2)(a)(ii) or (iii) of the former Constitution;

    continues to be vested in the State, and no compensation is payable in respect of its acquisition except for improvements effected on it before its acquisition.

The government can still compulsorily acquire agricultural land (not urban). This is by any standard non-democratic and contrary to Chapter 1, Section 3 – Founding Values and Principles:

2. The principles of good governance, which bind the State and all institutions and agencies of government at every level, include:

  1. a multi-party democratic political system;

If this all seems heavy going – it is, so check out a summary at the kubatana website.

It is worth noting that this draft constitution has only been available to the general public without access to the internet (most of Zimbabwe) for 3 weeks when it was published as a supplement to The Herald newspaper. This is not nearly enough time to analyse and digest it to any significant degree so I must conclude that the government has a vested interest in rushing it through. Why are the other political parties, who were at the end of last year very much against this constitution, now supporting it? I have no idea what sort of deal has been cut behind closed doors to prompt this sort of U-turn.

When I dropped Shelton off at the University of Zimbabwe I asked him if he was going to vote. He paused and then said; “No. It’s fait accompli and I suspect most people will boycott it. It is very flawed”.

Will I vote? No, I don’t think so. I agree that it is fait accompli and the best way of registering my displeasure is to contribute to what I hope will be a dismal turnout.

P.S. It is now Saturday, the day of the referendum. David Colthart, the minister of Education, Arts and Culture, has just been quoted on the BBC. He said we really have no choice for if we don’t accept this less-than-perfect constitution we will revert to the truly odious previous (i.e. the current) one. David  Colthart is a lawyer by training, a constitutional lawyer no less. So I guess he has a point.  It was also remarked on the same program that adoption of the new constitution is no guarantee that it will be respected by the powers   that be.