By A Correspondent= United Kingdom-based Zimbabwean constitutional law expert Alex Magaisa says the newly-formed Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) led by Nelson Chamisa should prioritise the drafting of a constitution, even an interim document, before holding a congress.
This comes after some political commentators, including ZANU PF officials, have suggested that CCC should have an elective congress before the 2023 general elections. We publish Magaisa’s comments below verbatim:
Congress debate: Putting the cart before the horse
1. When they say you’re putting the cart before the horse they mean you’re doing things in the wrong order. You want to buy a wedding gown before your partner has proposed! Everything must follow a process. This is why the debate over the CCC “Congress” is misplaced and misdirected.
2. I’ve been searching for when the “Congress” became an issue of public debate. I took a break over Easter and I probably missed its genesis then. Back to the idiom: an event of the nature described as a “Congress” is the culmination of other foundational processes.
3. The nomenclature of “Congress” is a reflection of how ZANU PF discourse has shaped our political thinking. MDC simply copied & pasted the language & processes of ZANU PF. The organs were similar albeit with minor modifications such as “Youth Assembly” for “Youth League”
4. Where ZANU PF had a Women’s League, the MDC called it Women’s Assembly. For ZANU PF’s Politburo (Soviet-style political bureau) the MDC had the Standing Committee (SC). It’s here where there was a major difference. MDC’s SC was elected while ZANU PF’s Politburo was appointed.
5. But most may not realise that it wasn’t always like this in ZANU PF. The big changes giving the President powers to appoint Politburo members started at its Congress in 1984. It centralised power with Mugabe becoming not just the President but the First Secretary of the party. The Secretary-General role then held by the political maverick Edgar Tekere became redundant. Mugabe was not only centralising power but eliminating competition.
6. Therefore elected members gave way to appointees. The MDC’s National Council is the equivalent of ZANU’s Central Committee the difference again being in appointment and election. However, it’s important to note that the MDC had an appointed National Executive.
7. This digression is meant to demonstrate how the obsession with the discourse of “Congress” is rooted in a political culture established by ZANU PF and copied with some modifications by the MDC. Hence both ZANU PF and the MDC had a “Congress” serving similar roles.
8. It’s therefore perhaps less surprising that this same political discourse is being uncritically exported to the CCC. What if the CCC is reimagining how it is constituted, far away from this discourse? This is where that idiom of putting the cart before the horse comes in.
9. The organs of a party are creatures of its founding document, the Constitution or the “grund norm”. The roles, functions & powers of these organs are set out in the party’s constitution which is adopted by a special gathering whose role it is to debate & approve the grund norm
10. How this special gathering is constituted and its purpose is a matter for the founding members. Every organisation has founding members. After all, a party is a voluntary organisation with the liberty to make its own rules that best advance its interests and goals.
11. They can choose to have an interim constitution which establishes rules & organs pending the adoption of the final constitution by the body of people given that role by the interim constitution. They might call it a “Congress” but they might decide to change this discourse.
12. It is therefore the proposed constitution of the CCC that will set this discourse. If therefore there’s a matter that should be a priority at this time, it is not what people are pre-occupied with regarding a “Congress” but the question of the party’s constitution.
13. So we return to that idiom: You cannot put the cart before the horse because that would be the wrong order. Once you deal with the constitutional question you will find that current issues are easily resolved because it is the document that will chart the path for the party.
14. I conclude by urging the CCC interim leadership to hasten the pace to establish the set of rules called the constitution, even on an interim basis. These debates and accompanying noises are a reflection of the unsureness that results from a constitutional void.
15. If the CCC wants to transform the political discourse, it has the great opportunity to do so via its constitution. Presently the discourse around “Congress” festers because that is what people are accustomed to from their days in ZANU PF and the MDC. That’s all they know.