Gabriel Chaibva Correspondent
His Excellency the President of Zimbabwe made an announcement to the effect that he is contemplating the establishment of the office of the leader of opposition in line with the practice in other Commonwealth countries.
Yes, Zimbabwe is a former British colony and thus she cannot dissociate herself entirely from her colonial past.
This is a welcome development which undoubtedly will entrench our democracy by giving official recognition to the next best contestant in the elections and consequently would give some measure of confidence in the voting population in that their voices are being heard and expectedly this should foster national unity among our people.
It is also the Commonwealth tradition that immediately after the election of the Speaker of Parliament, a team led by the newly elected Speaker as the presiding officer of Parliament, in the company of the Leader of the Opposition would pay a ritual visit to the State President, whereupon the Speaker declares to the State President the loyalty of Parliament, to the State and the house’s full and total commitment to its independence as the other arm of the State. The Speaker would end his speech before the President by vowing to protect, defend and entrench democratic values in the republic as enshrined in our national Constitution. On the other hand, the Leader of the Opposition would similarly declare his/her allegiance to the State President and would vow to be a responsible, constructive critic in line with the provisions of our laws.
The opposition would unequivocally vow to render support and encouragement to the President and his government’s programmes of action which seeks to advance the socio-economic well being of our people. S/He then would similarly vow to defend, protect the Constitution; observe all laws of the republic, vowing to act responsibly and to be accountable to the people in defence of the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of the State of Zimbabwe from foreign enemies alike.
Zimbabwe is a republic and has since dispensed with some remnants of the colonial structures of government and has introduced an Executive Presidency in 1987 (Constitutional Amendment No 7, repeated in the 2013 people-driven democratic constitution we have today). However the Commonwealth practices and parliamentary procedures still remain very relevant and are widely in use.
It is part of the Commonwealth tradition that upon election of the Premier, in our case, upon inauguration of the President, the leader of the opposition is given the first preference to give a congratulatory speech. We mean a congratulatory speech!
By desiring to give official recognition to the opposition, the President is well meaning and the evidence is there for all to see.
Since taking over as the President of the Second Republic, His Excellency President Mnangagwa has confounded many — his adversaries and friends alike — and had many shocked by demonstrating his deep commitment at entrenching democratic ethos and practices in our country.
The President’s desire to officially recognise the office of the Leader of the Opposition is yet another indication of his commitment to internationally established democratic practices within the Commonwealth. The gesture by his Excellency can only find no favour among those who do not wish Zimbabwe well and the prophets of doom. The colonial and Commonwealth traditional practice which the President urges Zimbabwe to emulate will certainly not be without a myriad of challenges of its own. The practice is premised on the clear understanding and expectation that the opposition is a loyal opposition that is prepared to pay allegiance to the supreme law of the land, the Constitution and is prepared to uphold and defend the territorial integrity, national sovereignty and independence of the State. It is presumed, in the Commonwealth tradition, that the opposition recognises the constitutional order that exists and is prepared to pay full allegiance to the laws of the land, particularly the doctrine of separation of powers of the three arms of the State, namely the Executive, Judiciary and the Legislature representing the peoples assembled.
The traditional practice envisages an opposition that has unwavering and unquestionable loyalty in their defence of the independence of the Judiciary in line with the doctrine of separation of powers.
It assumes an opposition which would not conduct itself in a manner likely to be injurious to the political and economic interest of the State, an opposition that seeks to meaningfully engage government and respectfully proffers solutions in its oversight role of the Executive, as they prepare themselves to be the next in government. It presumes an opposition which is committed to the welfare of the people and would tirelessly work to improve the standard of living of its peoples.
The tradition, which the President calls on all of us to embrace, recognises an opposition that respects the rule of law, particularly the decisions of the Constitutional Court and that such rulings are final and could not and cannot be a subject of political punch bag, nor can the decisions be a subject of ridicule of its office bearers.
To do so would undermine judicial independence, its integrity and cast in bad light the principle of the rule of law as envisaged in the Constitution. As we seek to embrace the proposed dispensation, we must certainly reflect and think yonder about the titanic responsibilities ahead, especially for those parties on whose shoulders shall be burdened the duties of an official opposition. Fresh in our minds, we recall the ridicule and demonisation of Justice Priscilla Chigumba, the embarrassing behaviour and reckless dehumanising remarks made against Chief Justice Luke Malaba, in Parliament of all places, by those meant to assume the mantle of official opposition.
Nobody has forgotten the tragic events of August 1, 2018, instigated and plotted by the opposition in an attempt to undermine the verdict of the people and destabilise the State. Several instances can be recited where the opposition has sought to undermine and destabilise the state by agitating rebellion and resorting to unconstitutionalism, actions which are certainly not envisaged in the Commonwealth traditional practices of the opposition.
Historically, we had the “Final Push” of 2004 and the threat to “. . .remove you violently” uttered in broad daylight. Even worse, the call for the imposition of the diabolic economic sanctions which has wrought havoc among our people, wiping away lifetime savings and reduced our nationals to virtual beggars the world over.
Sanctions have brought untold sufferings to the ordinary folk. In the Commonwealth, such actions are considered treasonous, for by colluding with the foreign powers, the sovereignty and independence of the State is undermined and exposes the country to external influence and control.
Such actions are injurious to the economic interest of Zimbabwe. The big question therefore is, is the MDC-Alliance ready and willing to shoulder the responsibility of being officially recognised as the opposition? If so, are they familiar and alert to what then is expected of them? We certainly hope they are aware of the enormity and the gravity of their responsibilities.
We are of the view that such official recognition, which we believe the President would want enacted into law, shall come along with stringent and punitive measures for failure to play ball, as is expected, and as is indeed a practice within the Commonwealth.
Zimbabwe is in our hands and together we will succeed for God is with us. Let us all rally behind the elected leadership for it is by the verdict of the people who are the final arbiters in matters of political contestations.
Mr Gabriel Chaibva is the executive director of an NGO, The Free and Fair Foundation, an organisation that is non-partisan, apolitical and believes in freeness and fairness in all matters of our endeavour. The Free and Fair Foundation is actively involved in training and educational programmes which seek to strengthen people’s understanding of democratic processes. It seeks to speak nothing but the truth and the truth only.