About twenty authors and poets met in Harare at the British Council on Saturday, October 27, to scrutinize the COPAC draft constitution that has reached a decisive moment in Zimbabwe. The writers sought to find what the draft constitution says regarding different aspects of their jobs as well as their lives as citizens of this country.
Running under the topic “Unpacking the COPAC Draft Constitution for writers and artists”, the meeting was chaired by David Mungoshi and was more of a conversation between the writers and two panelists Dr. Petina Gappah (who replaced writer Alexander Kanengoni) and Prof Lovemore Madhuku.
Gappah, speaking as a writer and lawyer, emphasized writers are citizens first of all and therefore are affected by every aspect of the draft constitution although there are clauses that directly impact upon their work.
She gave examples of the right to freedom of expression and artistic creation, the right to academic freedom, right to access to information and the right to language and culture, all of which heavily impact upon the writers' work.
Language is now recognized broadly in the draft with sixteen languages now qualifying as official languages of Zimbabwe.
Gappah said this is an important clause to have in any constitution.
“Until two years ago, the children of Victoria Falls could not learn their mother language (Tonga) at school. Tonga was not a language of instruction in Zimbabwe. For the first time, two years ago Tonga children could sit for exams in their own language. This is what I appreciate as a writer,” said Gappah.
South Africa is also one of the African countries that have given official status to every language spoken in that country.
Turning to Prof Madhuku, Gappah asked how a constitution is supposed to be made and the models of constitution-making that have been used around the world.
“There is no formula for writing a constitution,” said Prof Madhuku. “Different societies have different methods but the process chosen must be legitimate.”
He also said legitimacy is acceptability in the sense that if a society accepts a particular way of doing things, then it can be done.
Referring to the COPAC draft constitution, Prof Madhuku said there was a time when it had some legitimacy and then at some point lost its legitimacy when COPAC became arrogantly exclusive.
“Some of the things in the draft are good but it’s unlikely that you will get everything in a constitution good or bad,” he said.
Reflecting on the 2000 draft constitution which people rejected, Prof Madhuku noted that there were good things in that draft and also bad things.
As for the COPAC draft, he said there are good clauses in it such as the Bill of Rights which recognizes most rights that people want.
However, he said it is only left to people to weigh the draft.
An open discussion followed in which writers spoke about other issues in light of the draft constitution such as homosexuality and culture, death penalty, women rights, executive powers and the referendum.
On culture and matters of advancement of women, Gappah said that there is now better clarity in the draft constitution.
She said cultural practice which is inconsistent with the dignity of women as equal beings is now clarified in the draft and this coincidentally comes at a time when she is tackling the practice of ngozi in her next book.
Later, writer Shimmer Chinodya gave the vote of thanks in which he said writers in attendance have been lucky to have this opportunity to critically look at the national document that one way or the other shapes their futures.
The writers’ meeting was organized by Zimbabwe Writers Association which, through its Chairperson Musaemura Zimunya, also took this opportunity to update its members on its recent outreach visit to Manicaland.
Below are pictures from the writers’ meeting
(All photos by WIN)
Shimmer Chinodya who gave the vote of thanks
David Mungoshi who chaired the writers' meeting
Musaemura Zimunya, ZWA Chairperson
"Unclipping wings of the imagination"