The Centre for Human Rights (CHR), in partnership with the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum and the University of Zimbabwe, successfully launched the Zimbabwe Constitutional Literacy Booklet on 16 November in Harare, Zimbabwe.
The launch was attended by members of Civil Society, Academia, Members of the Diplomatic Corps and the Media. Speakers from partner institutions gave remarks on the importance of the project and its contribution to constitutionalism in Zimbabwe.
In her welcoming remarks, Ms Bonolo Makgale, the Programme Manager of the Democracy and Civic Engagement of the CHR, stated that the existence of a constitution is not a guarantee of constitutionalism; so too is the existence of democracy or specific democratic values. For a democracy to be stable and function properly, it needs a constitutional framework- one especially people-centred, and for constitutionalism to thrive, it needs a democratic pedigree. Since 2010 Africa has witnessed this democratic pedigree flourish with the proliferation of new constitutions; Kenya, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe are among the cohort of new constitutions born on the bedrock of citizen participation. Despite these efforts, the protection and fulfilment of human rights in Africa remain relatively low. Therefore, raising awareness is the most effective way to enhance accountability and citizen participation in government affairs.
Dr. Innocent Maja, the Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Zimbabwe, highlighted the importance of citizens knowing and enjoying their human rights and being able to find redress in the event of violations of their rights. Mr Lloyd Kuveya, the Assistant Director of the CHR, highlighted the importance of closing the gap between robust constitutional-making processes and the existing frameworks and actual knowledge of the Constitution that the people possess. He highlighted the need for effective constitutional literacy initiatives at all levels using examples of successes of the Constitutional Literacy model in South Africa, including community engagements to sensitise citizens on what is contained in the Bill of Rights, the inclusion of constitutional literacy in high school curricula and the South African National Schools Moot. To efficiently implement such programs at the national level in Zimbabwe, he underscored the need for and importance of increased collaboration between Civil Society Organisations and the Government of Zimbabwe towards protecting the rights of the most vulnerable. He remarked that it is time for a change in the antagonistic nature that has characterised CSO-Government relations in Zimbabwe. Mr Blessing Nyamaropa stated that the Constitution places a duty on the Courts in Zimbabwe as a guarantor and protector of human rights and noted the importance of the independence of the Courts to fulfil this mandate. Tools such as the booklet are essential to giving citizens the knowledge that is necessary to approach the courts and various mechanisms that can provide remedies in situations of human rights violations.
Ms Namatai Kwekweza, the Executive Director of WELEAD Zimbabwe, reflected on the preamble of the Zimbabwean Constitution, which begins with ‘We the people’, and the universal application of the Constitution and the various rights and obligations this imposes upon all citizens. She underscored the importance of citizens knowing the Constitution as a document they interact with daily. Ms Kwekweza noted that high levels of constitutional illiteracy prevalent in Zimbabwe are dangerous for society, democracy and the future of young people. High levels of constitutional illiteracy have an adverse effect on the efficacy of Constitutions. Professor Charles Fombad states in his reflection on Constitutional Literacy, ‘A constitution will certainly not serve any useful purpose if the people who supposedly brought it to life, own it and enjoy the protection of its provisions are ignorant of its content.’
In his keynote address, Dr Musa Kika the Executive Director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, highlighted the importance of the Constitutional Literacy Booklet as a tool that moves beyond providing information about constitutional provisions to providing information on how the Bill of Rights can, has and should be operationalised. One of the ways the Bill of Rights has been operationalised is through litigation. Issues concerning the protection and provision of human rights, such as socio-economic and children’s rights, have been adjudicated in the Zimbabwean Courts. Dr Kika highlighted the importance of having people at the centre to strengthen constitutionalism and democracy. Critical elements of meaningful participation and essential components of democracy, as illustrated by Dr Kika, are that; ‘the people’ must self-govern, participate and demand. In practice, this means that citizens are central to the systems of checks and balances in the Constitution. Constitutional literacy provides a basis for meaningful participation, and that knowledge of the Constitution allows citizens to make demands concerning their human rights. Dr Kika noted that there is a need to connect the proximate needs of the people with democratic ideals to ensure the real manifestation of human rights and fulfil the promise of constitutionalism. The rights that are provided for in the Constitution must be available to and manifest in the lived realities of everyday people.
The booklets were translated into isiNdbele and Shona and provided a simplified version of the Declaration of Rights enshrined in Chapter 4 of the Zimbabwean Constitution. The booklets provide an introduction to the Constitution of Zimbabwe, court cases in which people have claimed their rights and institutions to approach in situations where citizens seek redress for violations of rights. These booklets are an essential tool in the promotion of constitutional literacy in Zimbabwe. The booklets are an essential addition to existing advocacy tools that contribute to citizen empowerment and effective civic engagement.
A Guide to Your Rights - Zimbabwe Bill of RightsShona
A Guide to Your Rights - Zimbabwe Bill of Rights
A Guide to Your Rights - Zimbabwe Bill of Rights
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