Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum: Zimbabwe's Draft Constitution: Tipping point between history and aspiration
- Last Updated on 08 August 2012
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Zimbabwe's new draft constitution is a very bulky document containing eighteen chapters that span over 182 pages. A cursory glance of it reveals that it is both a backward and forward looking document. It is imbued with both past liberation war values on the one hand and people's aspirational values on the other. Whilst an aura of romanticism wafts through the document, there is no denying that there were valiant attempts by some stakeholders to chain it to the past. For example whilst it recognises the pain and glory before 1980, it deliberately omits or makes light the folly after 2000. However and overall, when viewed through a critical eye, the document defines a tipping point in Zimbabwe's historical convergence.
Right from the pre-amble there is a strong reference to values. What is also pertinent to mention is that, during its drafting, there appeared to be a struggle to tip the balance between the past, current reality and the future which made the document historical, legal and aspirational, all rolled in one. With reference to this balancing exercise, the writer will argue that although it is important to learn from the past to influence the present and significantly shape the future, our memory of the past should never be stronger than our vision for the future. Therefore, Zimbabwean leaders need to drive the country forward and only look through the historical rear view mirror at necessary junctures.
Values define who we are to the extent that they are important and enduring beliefs or ideals we share as a culture about what is good or desirable and what is not. Our "core € values are our central, innermost, vital, and essential part of our being. We should state, espouse and or embraces good values that make for a strong and cohesive society. In light of this another question that arises is the extent to which both politicians and general civil society will espouse and live the values stated in the draft constitution. The way we will embrace these values will determine the new constitution's efficacy in addressing presenting issues.
In its pre-amble the constitution provides that we need to "cherish values relating to freedom, equality, peace, justice, tolerance, prosperity, patriotism in search of new frontiers under common destiny €. These aspirational national objectives are centred on the creation of a just, free and democratic society, where citizens can pursue prosperous, happy and fulfilled lives. In setting these aspirations, the drafters were not being merely deliberative but similarly aware of the momentous upheavals Zimbabwe had gone through; therefore the document is both reactionary and proactive.
It is interesting to note that although wars of liberation are explicitly mentioned as some of the upheavals that Zimbabwe had gone through, the upheavals of the past and current decades were simply referred to as obstacles. For those who have been following the debate on the Human Rights Commission Bill, they would know why, because the same argument arose in that context too. This either demonstrates a revisionist approach to history, 'infantile' amnesia or a compromise borne out of a pragmatic but principled approach.
The above scenario gives rise to further questions: What is the importance of national aspirations? Are they enforceable/justiciable? Whose values are they?
In addressing these questions, it is crucial to note from the onset that the values contained in the draft constitution are indeed universal values which are also found in other major international instruments, for example the Universal Declaration of Rights (1948). The fact that Zimbabweans also yearn for these is a clear indication that freedom, peace, social progress, equal rights and human dignity are indeed universal values synonymous with human rights. These are our birth right as human beings: they are not the gift of governments, nor a creation of the West but part of our common humanity. However, they have to be seen in the context of their time and the fact that they entail a corresponding set of obligations, for example, the dignity of hard work similarly contained in Zimbabwe's draft constitution.
Although the modern notion of values were stated by Priests such as Felix Biesteck (1912-1994) and earlier by eminent philosophers such as Immanuel Kant(1724-1804), these values are not there to serve philosophers or theologians, but aid people in living organised lives (Kofi Annan, 2003). For example one doesn't need to be tolerant of those who share their opinions, or whose behaviour they already approve (ibid). It is when we are angry that we most need to apply our value of tolerance. Further the value of social progress is evidenced in our quest for change and a lack of satisfaction with the status quo. This entails a cultural mutation and the ability to embrace change, of which political change is a component. If the pace of change outside an organisation is faster than the change within, then the end of that organisation is near. The reticence to change by some of the constitution's stakeholders might be the beginning of their end.
The palpable struggle between historical liberation wars' values and aspirational values in Zimbabwe's draft constitution is not unprecedented. For example in his lecture at Cambridge University, Jack Straw (2008) states that, "the history of rights has been typified by the search for a balance of principle and practicality: what they represent and how they can be effectively applied under the law.
It is noble that Zimbabwe laid a set of aspirations in its new constitution. This mirrors the international approach to the values and rights discourse. For example, the values of peace, freedom, social progress, equal rights and human dignity, enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights merely expressed an optimistic vision, not a description of existing realities at the time they were drafted.
The foundation for these had been laid in the Atlantic Charter (1941).Thereafter Britain further developed the Dicey principles of unrestrained freedoms by providing some caveats, thus laying a foundation to the modern notion of derogable rights which is premised on the need to balance rights and responsibilities in democratic societies.
Therefore, just like in the case of the Universal Declaration of Rights, the aspirational objectives in Zimbabwe's draft constitution do not necessarily need to give rise to legal rights and neither should they all be realisable now. They are aspirational and they offer a normative counterpoint in respect of the past as well as a benchmark in respect of the future. These objectives are Zimbabweans' desire to create a fair, just and secure society. They are a posterity foundation and they paint the portrait of a Zimbabwe within whose walls, future generations can grow like oak trees both in confidence and in security.
It is therefore crucial that both the old and young generations acquire the necessary attitudes to migrate from the old to the new constitution though it is not being implied that the old was bad but that the new is a fulfilment of the old. This migration is not different from how the nation of Israel was exhorted by the Hebrew Scholar, Paul when he describes the new covenant as if God was putting his laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. The new covenant was founded on superior promises for a city, the builder of whose foundations was God himself in the same way Zimbabweans are longing for a new dispensation squarely resting on the foundational stones of justice, security, peace and equality.
If Zimbabweans espouse, internalise and begin to walk in the values as stated in the constitution, this would be significant and this is what underpins the debate on constitution and constitutionalism. Values are not useful until we begin to live them. Though individuals don't memorialize their own core values in written statements, most of us consciously communicate our values to those who know us. The world must know what Zimbabwe stands for, believe, and what its standards are. If we didn't, we would be perceived to have no values, which itself demonstrates a lack of character. If we don't live up to our stated values, there is a lack of integrity in our actions.
We need to live and defend our stated values. We should not compromise our ideals to fight perceived evil or for political expediency. We should uphold highest ideals with no exceptions. We should never rely on yesterday's hurts to correct today's wrongs because if " yesterday you hated me, today you cannot avoid the love that binds you to me and me to you € Constantly looking back is not only retrogressive but amounts to attempting to drive the nation forward by constantly peeping through the rear view mirror of history.