Library of Congress

Law Library of Congress

The Library of Congress > Law Library > News & Events > Global Legal Monitor

Zimbabwe: New Constitution Approved by Parliamentary Committee

(Feb. 7, 2013) It was reported on February 1, 2013, that Zimbabwe’s parliamentary Constitution Select Committee (COPAC) has formally adopted a draft new constitution for the country, following a settlement of political differences among the major parties. This action by the 25-member Committee is the last step in the drafting phase of the constitutional revision process. Once the Committee’s report is finished, the draft and the report will go to the whole Parliament. (Felex Share, Copac Adopts Revised Draft, THE HERALD ONLINE (Feb. 1, 2013), World News Connection online subscription database, Doc. No.201302011477.1_cff000364c379499; Current Draft Constitution, COPAC website (Jan. 31, 2013) [click on link to download text].)

If the draft is adopted by the whole legislature, in about one month a date for a national referendum will be announced. To facilitate that vote, copies of the document will be distributed throughout the country, with translations into a number of local languages and Braille. (Share, supra.) The draft officially recognizes 16 languages, including English and sign language. (Current Draft Constitution, art 6(1).) The translation and dissemination of the text are expected to cost about US$500,000; the money is available through the United Nations Development Program. According to Committee Co-Chairperson Munyaradzi Paul Mangwana, the Committee went through the draft with great attention to every provision. He said that there was a need “to be careful because a change in one chapter might affect another chapter.” (Share, supra.)

Douglas Mwonzora, another of the six Committee co-chairpersons, expressed thanks to the leaders for resolving their differences to come up with a draft they could all accept. All the parties have said they will support the draft through the referendum process. Mwonzora said, “[t]he unity of purpose for all Zimbabweans has been clearly demonstrated in the process where it has been shown that where there is a will, there is indeed a way. Zimbabweans have risen above their political differences to remove the hurdles that had threatened to stall the process.” (Id.)

Other commentators, however, have noted that protracted political disputes over the development of a new constitution, whose drafting process began in 2009, have sapped public interest in the results of the compromises. According to political analyst Ibbo Mandaza, the continuing political disputes among the major parties and the difficulties of bringing existing laws into line with the new draft constitution will make it unlikely that that there will be a smooth transition to the new constitution or that the elections that are scheduled to follow the constitutional referendum will be calm and successful. He pointed to the difficulties faced by Kenya in a similar situation in 2007. (Apathy Greets News of a New Zimbabwe Constitution, MAIL & GUARDIAN (Feb. 1, 2013).)

One issue that has received attention is the status of same-sex marriage in the draft constitution. The document bans such marriages, stating that “[p]ersons of the same sex are prohibited from marrying each other.” (Current Draft Constitution, art. 78(3).) Committee co-chair Mangwana stated that the clause showed that, beyond not allowing same-sex marriages, the country does not condone homosexuality. He went on to say that “[t]he constitution cannot provide more information as there will be other legal instruments to enforce it, such as the Sexual Offences Act. It’s clear sexual relationships between people of the same sex are prohibited.” (Draft Makes Same-Sex Marriage Criminal, NEWSDAY ONLINE (Feb. 1, 2013), World News Connection online subscription database, Doc. No. 201302011477.1_c97d0022f8e224b1.) Zimbabwe’s President, Robert Mugabe, has been quoted as describing homosexuality as “unAfrican” and calling gay people “worse than pigs and dogs.” (Id.)

Another area of dispute is the role of tribal chiefs as outlined in the draft. Their authority in land matters is limited to communally held areas. (Current Draft Constitution, art. 282.) A group of the traditional leaders has asked to meet with Mugabe to discuss provisions they feel undermine their authority. Chief Nembire from Mashonaland Central Province complained that the land provision in the draft “is a throwback to the colonial era where the administration of land was regulated in accordance with the white settlers’ policy of racial segregation as reflected in the Land Apportionment Act.” (Draft Constitution Riles Chiefs, THE ZIMBABWE MAIL (Feb. 4, 2013).)