The Government of Zimbabwe proposed changes to the Constitution of Zimbabwe, 2013 in a Bill gazetted on 17 January 2020. The Bill proposes several changes to the Constitution. Per constitutional requirement, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs embarked on public hearings from Monday 15 June 2020 across the country to gather views from the public on the proposed amendments. This report focuses on hearings conducted on 16 and 17 June 2020 in Gwanda, Gokwe, Marondera, Mberengwa, Mutare, Plumtree, Sanyati, Bulawayo and Chivi.
Habakkuk Trust filed an urgent chamber application seeking an interdict to stop the public hearings at a time when the nation is under lockdown. The application was heard on 15 June 2020. Justice Nokhutula Moyo, reserved judgment.
In general, the majority of people in Gwanda rejected the proposed amendments. Two hundred (200) citizens participated at the meeting held at Gwanda Municipality Hall. Due to COVID-19 regulations, 4 sessions of 50 participants each were conducted. Participants had their temperatures checked and their hands sanitised. Despite the sitting arrangement in the hall abiding by the 1 metre physical distancing, there was not much distancing in long queues of participants waiting for their session. Two police officers were at the meeting, maintaining order and encouraging participants to observe physical distancing. Police officers enforcing the lockdown regulations turned away some of the participants on their way to public hearings citing that they did not have exemption letters.
In Gokwe, the public hearings which were conducted at an open space on Nembudziya Government Complex, starting at 11:15am as opposed to the scheduled 10:00am. Anxious citizens were observed standing outside Nembudziya Government Complex waiting for the arrival of Members of the Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs. An estimated 150 people participated in the public hearings in three sessions of 50 participants at a time. Though participants observed social distancing during the public hearing, they did not have their temperatures checked. Due to transport problems, only participants who live near the venue attended the public hearing. The low turnover at the public hearing was also attributed to limited publicity of the hearing. There were about 12 uniformed policemen, who were controlling people and making sure that people adhered to the COVID-19 regulations. The majority of participants rejected the proposed amendments.
There were approximately 150 people in attendance at the public hearings that took place at Mberengwa Education Centre. The hearings were done in 3 groups of 50 participants each. The venue was easily accessible though the low turnout was attributed to the poor publicity of the event. Most of the participants did not know much about the proposed amendments resulting in Members of the Portfolio Committee explaining the proposed amendments. Participants by and large rejected the proposed amendments.
The general sentiment of participants who attended public hearing in Marondera was to fully implement the Constitution first before any amendments can be made. The hearing was attended by over 200 people, in 4 sessions. About 80% of the participants were women and youths. COVID-19 regulations including physical distancing, wearing of face masks, regular sanitising of participants were observed. It was, however, reported that 1 person wore political regalia in the form of a ZANU-PF branded face mask. The individual left the venue after he was instructed by Members of the Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to take off the facemask. The facilitators gave a brief background of the proposed amendments since most participants professed ignorance.
All 200 people who participated in the Mutare public hearings held at Queens Hall, rejected the proposed amendments. The hearing was conducted in 3 sessions. The first session strictly consisted of 50 people whilst the other 2 sessions had more than 50 people. Seven (7) people with disabilities were present and also made their submissions. The venue was in Mutare CBD which made it difficult for citizens to attend due to transport-related challenges. Most of the participants had to walk to the venue. The meeting was also inadequately published, participants were mobilised by CSOs and CBOs. Facilitators who were assisting community members with registration instructed an individual who wore a ZANU-PF branded scarf to take it off. Six (6) police officers were standing near the entrance to Queens Hall. The police officers did not make any efforts to enforce physical distancing measures. The meeting ended around 2pm.
In Plumtree, the hearings started at 1030am instead of 10am. No explanation was given to participants on the causes of the delay. The hearings which constated of 4 sessions of 50 people each and were conducted at TMB Hall. COVID-19 measures including mandatory temperature checks, sanitising participants and physical distancing within the Hall were observed. The majority of participants knew about the proposed amendments as some of them had simplified material on the Bill. Nonetheless, few participants seemed oblivious to the amendments, with one of them making submissions relating to the Marriages Bill. The facilitators did not fully explain the proposed amendments during the first session resulting in participants raising numerous points of clarity. The majority of participants rejected the proposed amendments.
In general, participants who attended the public hearings in Sanyati rejected the proposed amendments. The public hearings took place at Nyimo Hall. The hearings were attended by an estimated 300 participants including two (2) people with disabilities. Within the hall, there was 1 metre physical distancing between individuals. However, there was no physical distancing outside the hall. People who were waiting for their turn to make submissions were also standing in groups without face masks. The venue was not accessible as it was not centrally located. Some people failed to attend due to transport challenges and the lack of exemption letters. The meeting was also not adequately publicised. Participants who attended the hearing received the information through word of mouth.
The bulk of participants serve for five (5) people rejected the proposed amendments. Three hundred and fifty (350) people attended the hearings at Selbourne Hotel. Seven (7) sessions of 50 people each were done. However, there was no physical distancing practised in queues. Some participants were even conversing without face masks. The majority of participants showed that they understood the Bill and rejected it in full. The participants were each given a minute to speak so some issues were not fully canvassed. No explanations were given by the Committee on the reasons for amending the Constitution. On 16 June 2020 people were being turned away from the Bulawayo CBD at checkpoints. This affected the attendance of the public hearing as people were not sure if it was safe to access the CBD.
The public hearings which took place at Chivi Rural District Council Offices Hall consisted of 3 sessions of 50 people each in line with the COVID-19 regulations. The venue was accessible and central to participants. People without secure face masks were given provided new ones before gaining entry into the hall. Four (4) uniformed ZRP officers were deployed to maintain order at the public hearing. Reports indicate that the police officers did not interfere with participants. The majority of participants demonstrated that they had limited understanding of the proposed amendments. Participants largely rejected the proposed amendments.
The following are issues raised by participants during the public hearings.
- Section 124 – The extension of the women’s quota system and proportional representation of youths
The majority of participants indicated that they are against the proposed amendments. In Gwanda, a representative of the War Veterans Association demanded a quota system for war veterans indicating that the emphasis should not only be on women and youths. In Gwanda, participants called for the full implementation of sections 17, 56 and 80 of the Constitution which call for 50/50 gender equality. The same sentiments were echoed by participants in Marondera and Gokwe. In Gokwe and Marondera key submissions on the extension of the women’s quota was that it is not benefitting women; rather it has led women to be ridiculed by their counterparts in Parliament. In Marondera, one participant highlighted that the number of elected women in Parliament is decreasing because of the quota system. Men are limiting opportunities for women to run for office in constituencies citing the quota system.
In Sanyati, one participant added that extending the women’s quota is undemocratic since democracy talks about equality. He added that women are not second citizens and extending the quota system for another 10 years does not bring gender equality. In Mutare. One participant said there is no need to give women 10 seats, rather give them their 105 seats as articulated in the Constitution.
- Sections 91-97 – Removal of the running mate clause
In general participants in the public hearings rejected the proposed amendments. In Marondera one participant submitted that the Vice Presidents should be elected together with the President to avoid nepotism and chaos in instances when the President is incapacitated. She added that the provision should be implemented first before it is amended. Another submitted that the President must select Vice President he knows and trusts, and should also be able to dismiss them when he feels the need to do so. In Sanyati, one of the participants explained that the President should choose running mates before elections so that the people know who will be leading them before voting. In Mberengwa, a participant submitted that the President should have the right to appoint Vice Presidents since he will be working closely with them.
- Section 186 – Tenure of office of Judges
An overwhelming number of participants from all the public hearings rejected the proposed amendment on the appointment of judges after retirement. One submitted that Judges must retire and allow youths to also occupy the offices since there are experienced youths capable of doing the same tasks. Many added that Judges’ retirement must be 65 years and should not be increased. However, one participant in Gokwe supported the amendments arguing that elderly judges have more experience.
- Section 180 – Selection of judges without public interviews
Participants in all the public hearings expressed concern over the motive behind the President hand-picking Judges without subjecting them to public interviews. Participants presented that giving the President powers to appoint judges promotes partisanship and allows him to control and capture the judiciary. In Sanyati, participants argued that the office of the judge is for the public, therefore the public should have confidence in judges and that can only be achieved if the public takes part in the recruitment process.
- Section 243 – Establishment of the office of the Public Protector
Participants rejected his proposed amendment in all the public hearings. In Sanyati one participant argued that there is no need to duplicate the work of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC). In Mutare, another participant indicated that the government should capacitate the ZHRC so that it can discharge its duties more effectively.
Source: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (HRForum)