Africa

Apathy greets news of a new Zimbabwe constitution

Blessing-Miles Tendi

Zimbabwe's warring political leaders have agreed on a constitutional compromise, starting a process that is expected to end in elections this year.

Morgan Tsvangirai. (AFP)

A referendum on a new Constitution has long been a prerequisite for staging a vote, but full details of the compromise are yet to be made public. The referendum date is set to be announced soon and elections will follow.

But, instead of a lively public interest in the winding up of the Constitution and the prospect of elections, Zimbabweans are apathetic. The political bickering and power games that characterised the drafting of the Constitution since 2009 have engendered indifference.

Following the outcome of a similar situation in Kenya, some analysts are even sceptical about elections taking place this year. Kenyan political parties, like their Zimbabwean counterparts, entered a power-sharing government after a violent and disputed election in 2007. As in Zimbabwe, the completion of constitutional reform before new elections was important. Kenya's drafting of a new Constitution proceeded rapidly and with some consensus, in sharp contrast to Zimbabwe. However, the aligning of old laws with the new Kenyan Constitution was hampered by bickering politicians, taking two years to complete and forcing a delay of elections until March this year.

Ibbo Mandaza, a political analyst at Sapes Trust, believes that enduring political differences between Zimbabwe's major parties and the practicalities of harmonising old laws with the new Constitution will result in a repeat of the Kenyan scenario, thereby ruling out elections in Zimbabwe this year, which will result in even greater apathy.

There is also growing disaffection in urban areas about Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which will harm the MDC's chances, because the urban constituencies are its traditional electoral stronghold. Tsvangirai, who rose to prominence in the 1990s as secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union, successfully challenged President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF government on a range of social and economic policies that undermined urban labour. But since Tsvangirai joined Mugabe in a power-sharing government in 2009, his party's relations with urban workers have slowly broken down. A good example of this is the civil servants' long-running, futile negotiations with the public service ministry, which is controlled by the MDC, over wages and improved working conditions. Although a 5% pay increase promised last year has failed to materialise, MDC ministers have been lobbying for a $21 000 housing allowance.

An MDC Cabinet member, who asked not to be named, said: "We have lost our virginity, our innocence, our high moral ground. At the last Cabinet meeting of 2012, MDC ministers put up a huge fight for an unwarranted $21 000 housing allowance per Cabinet member. Tendai Biti [the finance minister] was saying, how do we justify this given that we are not going to increase civil servants' salaries? My colleagues in the MDC came up with clever ideas for hiding the housing allowance so the public will not know.

"What was shocking is that only one Zanu-PF minister spoke forcefully for the allowance. The real pressure came from my people."

Blessing-Miles Tendi is the author of Making History in Mugabe's Zimbabwe: Politics, Intellectuals and the Media and a politics lecturer in Oxford University's department of international development

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