How do we solve Zimbabwe’s problems?

Many had turned up to hear and participate in the lecture and discussion on Zimbabwe in Copenhagen on April 13 given by Earnest Mudzengi from the Zimbabwean National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), and Venitia Govender, a South African human rights activist and NCA-advisor.

National Constitutional Assembly

NCA was formed in 1997, Morgan Tsvangirai being the organisation’s first president (he stepped down as president on becoming president of the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in 1999), as a coalition of civil society organisations and individuals who sought to democratize Zimbabwe, and as a counterweight to the rest of the fragmented and impotent opposition. As the name alludes to, the NCA focuses on the importance of a new and more inclusive and democratic constitution (the present constitution was written by Zimbabwe’s former colonial power, England, and has been changed several times by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, to give more power to the executive). After pressure from the NCA, amongst others, a constitutional commission was set up to involve the Zimbabwean population in the process of writing a new constitution.

A new constitution?

The suggestions to the commission mainly focused on less power to the presidency and more democratic structures and poverty reduction, and subsequently made president Mugabe refer to his own subjects as being”stupid” and “unenlightened”. Earnest Mudzengi insists that ZANU-PF consequently went on to fundamentally change the commission report, which is why the NCA recommended that the population reject it in the upcoming referendum, which they did. This was the first time ZANU-PF had ever lost any kind of election, let alone a referendum, and the subsequent elections for parliament and the presidency became ever-more ridden with government-sanctioned violence and intimidation towards the MDC and its supporters. As the new constitutional process was by no means inclusive, the NCA was opposed to it as well as to the Government of National Unity (GNU), that Earnest Mudzengi believes has not improved the plight of the Zimbabwean population.

Here Earnest smiles and points out that any communists in the audience can at least see some improvements in political situation in Zimbabwe, as all civil servants in the country, doctors as well as receptionists, now receive the same (low) salary.


As for the MDC, Mudzengi believes that they are been caught in ZANU-PF’s web of power and corruption , even though power is still mainly confined to ZANU-PF ministers and associates, although he will not go as far as saying that this has been a deliberate process or choice made by the MDC. The MDC is the only credible oppositional party and thus the natural platform for the opposition to ZANU-PF, says Mudzengi, but he also insists that the party must return to its founding principles and increasingly include the population at large in the political processes of the country. This is especially so because ZANU-PF is strongest when the population is at its most apathetic, and because lack of political commitment or belief in that politics can improve Zimbabwe’s situation in turn feeds such apathy.

The role of the international community

The international community, and especially Zimbabwe’s neighbour South Africa, is not in itself capable of solving Zimbabwe’s problems, says Earnest Mudzengi, even though they can definitely make a greater effort towards doing so. The solutions will have to come mainly from an independent civil society that must pressurize the government (both ZANU-PF and the MDC) into including the population in the political processes of the country, he insists, and only the creation of a democratic, inclusive constitution will enable them to do so.

In her presentation, Venitia Govender focuses more specifically on the role of the international community in the democratisation of Zimbabwe. She believes that South Africa in particular is the key to solving Zimbabwe’s problems, even though the ANC government has been very reluctant to criticise ZANU-PF, and even though the word ‘opposition’ is a dirty word in African politics. She points to the fact that South Africa ought to be interested in solving Zimbabwe’s problems, and that the South African government has now accepted that the GNU has not been successful. South Africa is one of the few countries in the world to receive Zimbabwean refugees – an estimated 1 to 3 million Zimbabweans have fled to South Africa, many of these highly educated. On top of its economic and political problems, Zimbabwe has thus also experienced something of a “brain-drain”. Most of the refugees are desperate and vulnerable as they do not receive any government sanctioned aid or social security, and since there are no refugee camps in South Africa. On the other hand, she believes that South Africa also profits from the Zimbabwean “situation” from the purchasing power that many of the refugees have and by way of the many South African interests in Zimbabwe.

What can we do?

Venitia Govender ends by insisting that ordinary people also have an important role to play as South African politicians generally tend to cave in persistent to popular pressure. The European agenda, on the other hand, must focus on the conditions of ordinary Zimbabweans, she claims. It must be conducted as an act of people-to-people solidarity, and Europeans and South Africans must ensure that the initiative and control of such a campaign remains within the grasp of Zimbabwean civil society. The strengthening of Zimbabwe’s civil society, she concludes, is the first necessary step towards an economical normalisation and democratisation of Zimbabwe, but needs to be complemented by international pressure on Zimbabwe for it to work.

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