SPT – Zimbabwe Update No.5. October 2012: Towards another stalemate in Zimbabwe?

SPT - Zimbabwe UpdateBy Brian Raftopoulos


Four years after the signing of the SADC facilitated Global Political Agreement in Zimbabwe, the outcome of the process remains fiercely contested and in the balance. The Agreement, which set out to prepare the political process for a generally acceptable election after the debacle of 2008, has been marked by severe ebbs and flows, all too characteristic of the battle for the state that has constituted the politics of the GPA. At almost every stage of the mediation from 2007 and the implementation of the GPA from February 2009, intense conflicts over the interpretation of the accord have left their debris on the political terrain, at the heart of which has been the struggle over the meaning of ‘sovereignty’. Around this notion Zanu PF in particular has woven dense layers of political discourse combined with the coercive force of the state that it continues to control. The major aim of this strategy has been to manipulate and stall the reform provisions in the GPA, and to regroup and reconfigure its political resources after plunging to the nadir of its legitimacy in the 2008 electoral defeat.

The Constitutional Process.

Between 2009 and the present an important area of contestation between the Zimbabwean parties has been the struggle for constitutional reform. Article VI of the GPA set out the ‘fundamental right and duty of the Zimbabwean people to make a constitution for themselves’, also stipulating that the process would be carried out by a Select Committee of Parliament composed of the parties to the agreement. Constitutionalism and constitutional reform is often a contradictory and highly contested process with different parties bringing different political agendas and competing imaginaries to the process. Zimbabwe is no exception to this trend, and the major political parties have since the late 1990’s often fought out their competing conceptions of change and democratization on this terrain.

For the nationalists coming out of the liberation movement constitutionalism and the law have had a complicated history. On the one hand these discourses were constitutive of their demands against the colonial state and in conceptualizing their own legality and legitimacy, and have thus played an important role in both locating their demands and in imagining the possible forms of a future state (Alexander, 2011). On the other hand for this generation of leaders the liberation struggle was also viewed as an alternative to constitutionalism with the war for liberation conceived as leading to the destruction of the colonial state and the establishment of ‘people’s power’ however nebulously defined. (Mandaza, 1991: 72). The constitutional compromises agreed to at Lancaster House in 1979 were the result of a convergence of national, regional and international pressures that inaugurated the politics of the post-colonial state. Once in power Zanu PF, as in the case of other post-colonial political parties, instrumentalised the use of the constitution to concentrate power in the presidency and used constitutionalism to reconstruct the power relations of the state to deal with political opposition.

During the period from 1998-2000, in the face of a mass democratic movement and emergent political opposition calling for constitutional reform, Zanu PF attempted to control this process from above through the government controlled Constitutional Review Process, by curbing the demands for popular sovereignty and once again seeking to secure centralised Presidential powers. When this strategy was defeated in the 2000 referendum, constitutional reform went on the back burner.

With the SADC mediation the issue of the constitution became one of the central concerns of the political facilitation. In June 2007 the parties agreed to ‘negotiate a draft constitution, after which a select committee of parliament would take the draft constitution through a public consultation exercise culminating in the enactment of that constitution before the 2008 election.’ Moreover the parties negotiated the amendments to the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment Bill No. 18, ‘on the express understanding by the Zanu PF negotiating team that they would not renege on the enactment of the agreed draft constitution before the 2008 election.’ Leaders of both MDCs ‘sought and obtained guarantees’ from then President Mbeki that Zanu PF ‘would not be allowed to renege on the agreement to implement a new constitution before the next election.’ By December 2007 it was clear that Zanu PF had decided to renege on this agreement as Mugabe unilaterally declared that the elections would take place in March 2008 without a new constitution. Thus the contested 2008 elections took place under the existing constitution.

On the signing of the GPA constitutional reform drew the parties into a protracted political battle. After three years of delays, obstructions, logistical and financial squabbles, and a problematic outreach programme, a draft constitution was produced through the Parliamentary Select Committee process, COPAC, in July 2012. While the COPAC draft is clearly a compromise document it contains some important changes such as controls on executive power, accountability of the security and judicial services, a more independent national prosecuting authority, devolution of power and citizenship rights. Importantly, in terms of process, all the parties to the agreement were signatories to the draft, leading to the logical assumption that at all times the Principals of the parties and their respective leaderships were fully informed of the discussions of the COPAC team.

However in a move that replicated previous interventions to block constitutional reform and eschew its commitment to the GPA, Zanu PF once again initiated a strategy intended to foil a process that has the potential to unravel its political hegemony in the country. In August 2012 President Mugabe presented the leaders of the MDC formations with a Zanu PF re-draft of the COPAC draft, on the grounds that the latter was drafted in opposition to the ‘views of the people’ gathered during the outreach process. This re-draft, described by Zanu PF as ‘non-negotiable’ attempted to undo the COPAC process, undermine the GPA, and once again force the Zimbabwean citizenry into a national election without a new constitution. Moreover the re-draft effectively dismissed the major reforms included in the draft and proposed a return to the kind of executive powers and party/state rule that Zanu PF has crafted since 1980. Both MDC formations objected strongly to the Zanu PF position. After weeks of political haggling the parties, under pressure from the SADC facilitation team, agreed to take the Copac draft to an All Stakeholders Conference to be held from 21-23rd October.

SADC and the Constitutional Impasse.

The threat of an impasse in the process allowed for the invocation of a SADC resolution passed at the Heads of State and Government Summit in Maputo in August 2012, which stated that, in the event of any difficulties ‘regarding the Constitution and implementation of agreements,’ the Facilitator should be called upon to ‘engage the parties and assist them resolve such issues, bearing in mind the timeframes and the necessity to hold free and fair elections.’

Since the inception of the mediation in 2007 SADC and South Africa in particular have invested a good deal of diplomatic capital in the Zimbabwe facilitation. Moreover since the time of the SADC summit in Livingstone, Zambia in March 2011, the SADC leadership has consistently restated its commitment to the full implementation of the GPA, fully aware of the points of blockage in the Zimbabwe equation. This remains the position of the regional body even if it has been slow in following up on the implementation of its resolutions. Thus for example it was only in September this year that a resolution passed at the Livingstone summit in 2011, stating that a SADC team would be attached to work with the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (JOMIC), was finally put into place. Ambassador Katye from Tanzania and Colly Muunya a diplomat from Zambia, have been assigned the task.

SADC’s commitment to ensuring that the regional body remain in control of the Zimbabwe facilitation was set out very clearly from the beginning of the process, with Thabo Mbeki stating that the role of international players would be to ‘support’ and not ‘direct’ the process. This aspiration has not always been translated into smooth relations between the EU, US and SADC, with the ongoing debate over the efficacy of sanctions continuing to aggravate the facilitation process. However notwithstanding such tensions and the difficulties they have created for SADC, the latter’s credibility is heavily at stake in this process. With Mugabe and his party attempting to draw a line in the sand over the constitutional draft and in the process openly flouting the modality set out in the GPA, it is clear that SADC is once again faced with a severe test of its standing as a mediation body.

The lead player in the SADC facilitation, South Africa, is currently in the midst of its own major challenges, with the ruling ANC facing many questions over its leadership and authority in the face of the Marikana mine killings. The moral and political authority of the ANC has been severely bruised and this has not been lost on Mugabe and his party. Against the background of a problematic history of relations between Zanu PF and the ANC, the former has, at critical points in the SADC facilitation, questioned the authority of President Zuma and his team. Yet South Africa remains the lead player in the mediation process and SADC retains the primary guarantor of the process. Moreover this factor has been the major obstacle to Zanu PF’s repeated attempts to scuttle the GPA and move towards an early election under conditions favourable to the Mugabe regime.

In the light of Mugabe’s continuing hostility to the West and his growing reliance on a ‘Look East’ policy for strategic economic, military and diplomatic support, the diplomatic influence of the West remains confined to the ‘sanctions question’, humanitarian assistance and the difficult discussions with the international financial institutions. In this context the most fruitful form of diplomatic intervention for the West on the Zimbabwe question remains a strong support for the SADC mediation, and preparation for a fuller engagement with what could well be another reconfigured inclusive government after the next election.


Alexander, Jocelyn, 2011. “Nationalism, Self-Government in Rhodesian Detention: Gonakudzingwa, 1964-1974.” Journal of Southern African Studies, 37 (2), September: 551-569.

Mandaza, Ibbo, 1991. “Movements for National Liberation and Constitutionalism in Southern Africa.” In Issa Shivji, ed. State and Constitutionalism, An African Debate. Harare: SAPES Books, pp. 71-90.

Raftopoulos, Brian, (forthcoming 2013). “An Overview of the Politics of the Global Political Agreement: National Conflict, Regional Agony, International Dilemma.” In Brian Raftopoulos, (Ed) The Hard Road to Reform: The Global Political Agreement in Zimbabwe. Harare: Weaver Press.

This is a slightly revised version of a Brief published by the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre (NOREF), and can be accessed on www.peacebuilding.no

Please cite this article as follows: Raftopoulos, B. (2012) ‘SPT-Zimbabwe Update No.5. October 2012: Towards another stalemate in Zimbabwe?’, 22 October, Solidarity Peace Trusthttp://www.solidaritypeacetrust.org/1243/towards-another-stalemate-in-zimbabwe/

Mon, October 22 2012 » Constitution, Zimbabwe Update

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