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Deep in the remote area under Chief Dakamela in Nkayi district, a group old men and women and a sizeable number of youths gather under the zinc roofed shade to discuss the contents of the new constitution. Hats off to this youth focused organization that has taken upon itself to engage both the young and the old on the constitution, amid difficulties in getting permission from security authorities to carryout constitutional awareness meetings. The greatest challenge in this discussion is that there is only one copy of the constitution to be shared by a group of 20 people. This booklet is written in English and there are old women and men who are finding it difficult to comprehend the English language used in the constitution. What boggles the mind is that a country that brags so much about high literacy levels fails to produce copies of the constitution written in vernacular languages.
A lot of work still needs to be done to promote public awareness of the constitution. Chapter (1) Section 7 obligates the state to translate the constitution into officially recognized languages in this case the 16 languages stated in the new constitution. It further alludes that the constitution must be taught in schools as part of the curricula, training for the members of the civil service, security services and employees at the public institutions. All these obligations have not been implemented as required by the constitution. Communities are still lamenting abuse and infringement of their rights at public offices. This means that the state is undermining the supremacy of the constitution. Other critical provisions that the state seem to be developing cold feet in implementing is Devolution of government power to provincial and metropolitan councils under Chapter 14 subsection 264. It is now 8 months since the new government came into power and up to date there is no talk about introducing an Act of parliament that will enable Devolution of governmental to provinces. These provisions will empower people to make decisions that address their developmental needs, as it is people are still at the mercy of central government to make decisions on critical issues that affect them. For example floods in Tsholotsho had to wait for a high powered ministerial delegation from the central government in order for flood victims to get assistance.
Due to time that has gone without implementing devolution of governmental power, perceptions that the ZANU PF led government is not sincere about implementing such provisions come into play as the revolutionary party vehemently opposed it during the outreach meetings. It remains to be seen whether the party will respect and honor the constitution and demonstrate the will in making efforts to educate people about the constitution.
The media was awash with the news of the signing of the supreme law of the land under pomp and fanfare at state house but all that hype has died down. The people have been forgotten that they have a right to know the constitution. To a larger extent the document contains their views as gathered during the constitutional outreach programme but some provisions were a result of negotiations between the three political parties that led the process. One will argue that people know the constitution since they voted for it during the referendum but only 3 million Zimbabweans out of over 7 million eligible to vote participated in the in referendum, which means that a significant number of Zimbabwean do not know anything about the contents of the constitution. Failure by the government to promote public awareness of the constitution is a violation of Chapter 4 subsection 62, which states that every Zimbabwean has the right of access of information held by the state in the interests of public accountability.
The government must develop mechanisms that will enable communities to know the contents of the constitution.
· It can use the state television, radios though in most parts of the country there is very limited reception of television and radio signal to broadcast programmes that educate people about constitution.
· Partner with civil society organizations and carryout joint sensitization meetings within communities.
· Translate the constitution into local languages and distribute to communities.
· Task all members of parliament to carryout constitutional sensitization meetings in their constituencies.
· Local authorities to task councilors to carry out constitutional sensitization meetings in their wards
· Waive seeking of police clearance to discuss constitutional matters as this violates the right of access to information.
· Introduce information centres in all districts for people to access information on government programmes.
By Michael Mdladla Ndiweni