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The Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 17) Bill, 2005 (“the Amendment
Bill”) was gazetted on 15 July 2005 and is intended to amend the Constitution of
Zimbabwe in several respects. It is the view of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human
Rights (ZLHR) that the Bill raises serious concerns, and the Portfolio Committee
on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs (“the Committee”) should be
encouraged to present an adverse report to Parliament, based on the analysis,
conclusions and recommendations that appear below.
In the most minimal terms a “constitution” consists of a set of rules or norms
creating, structuring and defining the limits of, government power or authority.
This requires not only that there are rules creating legislative, executive and
judicial powers, but that these rules impose limits on those powers. The only
time-tested manner of ensuring such limits is through a constitutional structure
which ensures separation of powers, checks and balances, independent
constitutional review by an independent Judiciary, and protection of individual
rights. This, in essence, is the principle of constitutionalism.
Constitutionalism is a necessary foundation for the rule of law. Laws must exist
to place meaningful constraints on government behaviour, and must allow for
established procedures to be available, consistently implemented and enforced in
order to prevent arbitrary action, which leads to a loss of authority in the eyes of
the people who the government seeks to serve.
Constitutionalism does not weaken the government; to the contrary, it allows the
government to be stronger and more stable, as it is seen as more responsible,
more consistent, more predictable, more just, and more respected.
In turn, constitutionalism cannot exist without the rule of law. if laws are
exclusively the results of the "sheer will" of the legislators, there can be no
constitutionalism. For a constitutional structure of separation of powers, checks
and balances and rights protection to exist, there must be some limits on what
the legislators can do. This limit is imposed by the rule of law and implemented
through an independent judiciary, the process of judicial review, and the notion
that law is, at least in part, the product of independent legal reasoning by
The arguments put forward in this section draw upon comments to be found in the Stanford Encyclopedia
of Philosophy and Li, B. Constitutionalism and the Rule of Law Perspectives, Volume 2, No. 1
A further important feature of constitutionalism is that the rules imposing limits
upon government power must be in some way be entrenched, either by law or
by way of "constitutional convention". Those whose powers are constitutionally
limited — i.e., the organs of government — must not be legally entitled to
change or expunge those limits at their pleasure. Were a government entitled, at
its pleasure, to change the very terms of its constitutional limitations, it is
questionable whether there would, in reality, be any such limitations.
What is clear from the contents, intent and purposes of the Amendment Bill is
that there has been a general failure to subscribe to this fundamental principle.
The Amendment Bill seeks to effectively remove the fundamental rights to
property [section 16], secure protection of the law [section 18(1) and (9)] and
freedom of movement [section 23] from the people of Zimbabwe who rely on the
Constitution for protection against unchecked State action. As an organisation
whose primary objective is to foster a culture of human rights in Zimbabwe and
promote and protect human rights as enshrined in the Constitution of Zimbabwe
and international and regional human rights instruments to which Zimbabwe is a
State Party, ZLHR finds these implications in particular to be of great concern.
In summary this intended section 16B seeks to do the following:
1. Add a new provision which will confirm the acquisition by, and vesting of
full title in, the State of agricultural land for resettlement purposes which
took place pursuant to the Land Reform Programme beginning in 2000
without compensation (except for improvements effected prior to
acquisition), and provide for the acquisition in the future of agricultural
land for resettlement and other purposes (emphasis added).
2. Allow for the retrospective operation of the law in relation to such
acquisition and vesting of full title.
3. Remove the jurisdiction of the Courts of Zimbabwe to determine the
merits of any such acquisition or any other matter relating to that land as
envisaged by section 18(9) of the Constitution.3
Article 14 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which Zimbabwe is a State Party,
states: ‘The Right to Property shall be guaranteed. It may only be encroached upon in the interest of public
need or in the general interest of the community and in accordance with the provisions of appropriate
laws’. In terms of Article 17(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) ‘ Everyone has the
right to own property alone as well as in association with others’ and Article 17(2) states that ‘ No one
shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property’
Section 18(9) provides that ‘Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, every person is entitled to be
afforded a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial court or other
adjudicating authority established by law in the determination of the existence or extent of his civil rights
or obligations.’
4. Allow for future acquisitions without notice to affected landowners or the
possibility of challenged such acquisition through the Courts of Zimbabwe.
5. Allow such acquisitions to go unchallenged even if the land in question is
incorrectly identified by the State, as long as it is purportedly carried out
in terms of the new section 16B.
The implications of this intended amendment are far-reaching and of a
magnitude too serious to imagine.
A. An entire category of landowners will effectively have their constitutional
right to protection from deprivation of property summarily removed, on
the basis that they own agricultural land. The Constitution itself in its
current form provides that all persons are entitled to the fundamental
rights and freedoms contained in the Declaration of Rights4, that no law
shall make any provision that is discriminatory either of itself or in its
effect5, and that no person shall be treated in a discriminatory manner by
any person acting by virtue of any written law or in the performance of
the functions of any public office or authority6. The intention of the
drafters is clear as to who is being targeted and it is submitted that they
fall within the confines of the groups against which such discrimination
cannot be allowed to occur7.
B. The proposed provisions of section 16B(2)(a)(iii) are dangerously vague
and ambiguous, and allow for unacceptable discretion on the part of the
acquiring authorities. In future, all targeted agricultural land can be
acquired “for whatever purpose” and includes certain purposes, which,
again, are left undefined in the Bill, are subject to various unintended
interpretations and thus open to abuse.
C. Of most serious concern is the contemplated ouster of the jurisdiction of
the Courts of Zimbabwe, which will prevent the Judiciary from considering
whether the actions of the other arms of government are within the
confines of the Constitution and other relevant laws of the land. This
contravenes fundamental international human rights instruments which
Zimbabwe has ratified and which protect the independence of the
Judiciary8. This clearly stated intention to remove the fundamental
Section 11 of the Constitution
Section 23(1)(a) of the Constitution
Section 23(1)(b) ibid
Section 23(2) ibid
Various international human rights instruments, to which Zimbabwe is a State Party, provide for secure
protection of the law. These include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. For example in terms of Article 16
protection of section 18(9) of the Constitution also defies the principle of
constitutionalism as traversed above, and is clearly bad law. It cannot be
allowed to pass.
D. There are other more practical issues that have not been addressed, but
which will definitely prove problematic if such a provision passes:
1. There are a plethora of land cases already before the Administrative
Courts, the High Courts, and the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe, which
will be affected by this provision. They will be prematurely terminated
should this provision pass, notwithstanding the individual merits and
circumstances of each case. Amongst other considerations, who will
compensate litigants for their wasted costs? Were such people
consulted before such a drastic step was taken? Was the Judiciary
itself consulted on its approval of such a blatant withdrawal of its
constitutional mandate? The State is opening itself up to a multitude of
lawsuits should this Amendment be passed.
2. Even MPs sympathetic to the Government that drafted this
Amendment ought to be cautious in voting for it because, by showing
approval for such conduct, which is contemptuous of the fundamental
principle of separation of powers, the Legislature will be condoning
potential future ousters of the functions of the Judiciary by the
Executive in other areas, which could eventually lead to a complete
removal of the Courts of this land, causing a complete breakdown of
the rule of law and no legal protection for any person living in
3. The Courts of the land are being reduced to legal advisors of
Government as and when it pleases because it can now simply
legislate that it merely wants their opinion on certain issues, which it
can disregard at its pleasure, (for example around the issue of
quantum of compensation) but it is not willing to allow the courts to
decide on the lawfulness of its conduct. Now the Courts cannot review
patently unlawful and or unconstitutional laws and or constitutional
amendments. This function will be left to the Executive and its majority
in Parliament.
ZLHR concludes that such an amendment would be unacceptable and therefore
should not be approved by the Committee or Parliament in general.
of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1976) ‘Everyone shall have the right to
recognition as a person before the law’ (the proposed S.16B effectively denies land owners this status and
strips them of their humanity), and Article 26 provides that, ‘All persons are equal before the law and are
entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law.’
The existing provision is similar in its form and content to many provisions of
international human rights law, and provides in section 22(1) that “No person
shall be deprived of his freedom of movement”. Embodied in such protection are:
(i) the right to move freely throughout Zimbabwe; (ii) the right to reside in any
part of Zimbabwe; (iii) the right to enter and leave Zimbabwe; and (v) immunity
from expulsion from Zimbabwe.
Subsection (4), as read with subsection (3)(a), provides that, although in the
interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health,
it is lawful to restrict the freedom of movement of persons, such right is not to
be construed as authorizing a law preventing a citizen from leaving Zimbabwe or
excluding or expelling him from the country. Verbatim it reads: “(4) The
provisions of subsection (3)(a) shall not be construed as authorizing a law to
make provision for preventing any person from leaving Zimbabwe or excluding or
expelling from Zimbabwe any person who is a citizen of Zimbabwe” (emphasis
The Amendment Bill, in its Clause 3(b), seeks to remove the above-emphasized
portion of S.22 (4), which disallows the making of laws that make provision for
‘preventing any person from leaving Zimbabwe’.
In the case of Chirwa v Registrar General10, it was held that the onus is on the
State ‘…seeking to limit the [applicant’s] right to enter and leave Zimbabwe
guaranteed under S.22, [to] also show that the objective which the limitation
intended to achieve was of sufficient importance to overcome the protected
constitutional right. Further, the Respondent must demonstrate that the means
adopted to achieve this are proportional or appropriate to the ends’11.
The Memorandum to the Amendment Bill seeks to justify the reversal of the
ruling of a duly-constituted Court in Zimbabwe (thus again usurping the function
of the Judiciary) by removing that portion of the judgment and provides the
following explanation: ‘An example of the type of mischief that may justify the
imposition of the restrictions on the freedom of movement contemplated by this
clause is where, for instance, it is discovered that a person intends to depart
Zimbabwe for purpose of engaging in terrorist training abroad.’
The right to freedom of movement is recognized under international human rights instruments to which
Zimbabwe is a State Party. For example, in terms of Article 12(2) of the African Charter on Human and
Peoples’ Rights, ‘Every individual shall have the right to leave any country including his own, and to
return to his country. This right may only be subject to restriction provided for by law for the protection of
national security, law and order, public health or morality’. Article 12(2) of the International Covenant
on Civil and Political Rights states that, ‘Everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own’
1993 (1) ZLR 1 (H)
Per Adam J at p.20 C-D
With all due respect, this is an unjustified limitation. Sections 22(2) and (3)(a)-(f)
already cater for this unfounded alarm. There is further an array of security and
anti-terrorist laws already on our statute books12 and in the common law to
adequately protect against suspected terrorist activity. It is submitted that it is
not reasonably justifiable in a democratic society to remove such a critical
protection from the Bill of Rights for a purpose already achievable through other
laws that the state has zealously enforced in the past.
It is therefore respectfully submitted that one of the real objectives of the
amendment is to reverse the progressive reasoning of Justice Adam in the
above-cited case. It has the unfortunate retrogressive effect of further
diminishing the protection of human rights in Zimbabwe. It is an unfortunate
example of the Executive manipulating the Legislature into undoing judicial
decisions with which they disagree, or which they do not wish to enforce, and
this is an unjustifiable affront to the time-honoured doctrine of separation of
powers and the rule of law. It is submitted that it is reasonable and acceptable in
a democratic society to let the legislature legislate on anti-terrorism measures
and then allow the Courts to decide on the effect of the legislation on
fundamental rights and freedoms. However with this Amendment Bill, legislation
could now be promulgated to prevent a person from leaving Zimbabwe or to
deny citizens passports. This new provision will make it possible for the State to
pass laws which cancel travel documents of residents, withdraw passports or just
declare them invalid and thus make it impossible for people to move out of
Zimbabwe. In the view of ZLHR this is clear executive manipulation of the
Legislature for unsustainable reasons.
The Memorandum is also highly misleading, as it directs attention away from
other possible dangerous purposes for which the removal of protection can be
enforced. The Amendment Bill seeks in clause 3(a) to increase the grounds open
to the authorities to justify impositions of restrictions on freedom of movement.
Added to the traditional grounds of interests of defence, public safety, public
order, public morality or public health, have been added “the national interest”,
“the public interest or the economic interests of the State”.
In this regard refer to TITLE 11(DEFENCE, SECURITY AND PUBLIC ORDER) of The Statute Law of
Zimbabwe (1996 Revised Edition). It contains inter alia the Commonwealth Forces (Jurisdiction) Act
[Chapter 11:01];Defence Act [Chapter 11:02]; Defence Procurement Act [Chapter 11:03]; Emergency
Powers Act [Chapter 11:04]; Foreign Subversive Organizations Act [Chapter 11:05]; Geneva Conventions
Act [Chapter 11:06]; Law and Order (Maintenance) Act [Chapter 11:07]; National Service Act [Chapter
11:08]; Official Secrets Act [chapter 11:09]; Police Act [Chapter 11:10]; Preservation of Constitutional
Government Act [Chapter 11:11]; Protected Places and Areas Act [Chapter 11:12]; Unlawful
Organizations Act [Chapter 11:13]; Public Order and Security Act [Chapter 11:17]; Chemical Weapons
(Prohibition) Act [Chapter 11:18]; Anti-Personnel Mines (Prohibition) Act [Chapter 11:19]
The problem with such grounds is immediately apparent. Who defines such
interest/s? They remain undefined in the Bill and therefore if passed would allow
the authorities unfettered discretion to clamp down on any person they would
not wish to travel out of the country for any purposes whatsoever. Examples that
spring to mind are MPs critical of a government policy that are invited to address
international forums. Another example could be activists who wish to travel to
address regional or international meetings or conferences. A further example
could be a labour representative traveling to participate at an ILO conference.
The list is endless and it is clear what the intention of the drafters is. It should
also be borne in mind that, with the clamping down on the freedom of
movement, several other fundamental human rights will naturally be affected,
including freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association.
ZLHR again concludes that this provision is unacceptable and the intended
amendments should be wholeheartedly rejected.
ZLHR welcomes the inclusion of “physical disability” to the list of grounds on
which discrimination is prohibited as long overdue. As for the intended addition
of paragraph (g), it is submitted that the clause remains vague and undefined
and needs to be tightened in ordered to prevent its abuse for unintended
CLAUSES 5 – 8, 11 – 16 and 21, First Schedule
ZLHR notes that the Amendment Bill seeks to reconstitute the Parliament of
Zimbabwe as a bi-cameral legislature consisting of a Senate and a House of
Assembly. Further, certain representatives will be appointed in an undemocratic
manner. Out of the intended 66 Senators, an unacceptable total of 16 will be
people who have not been democratically elected by the people of Zimbabwe
exercising their right to a secret ballot. In the House of Assembly, although the
10 chiefs will be removed through their “promotion” to the Senate, the other 20
non-constituency MPs remain, unelected and unacceptable in a democratic
This unfortunately undermines the principle that the authority to govern
derives from the will of the people demonstrated through elections
conducted on the basis of universal and equal suffrage exercised
through a secret ballot, and the principle that every citizen has the right
to participate in government directly or through freely chosen
representatives, as enshrined in our very own Electoral Act [Chapter 2:13] and
in the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, to which
Zimbabwe has bound itself. For such reasons, ZLHR finds this re-constitution of
the Senate unacceptable.
In addition, such intended re-constitution also imposes fiscal obligations on the
State which, in the current economic climate, will be impossible to sustain and
will endanger the lives and livelihoods of the people of Zimbabwe. It will have an
adverse effect by drawing funding away from areas which critically require
sustenance, and this will inevitably lead to further violations of the economic,
social and cultural rights which, although not adequately protected in the
Constitution of Zimbabwe, are protected in international human rights
instruments to which Zimbabwe is a State Party.
It is the firm belief of ZLHR that the bi-cameral Parliament will offer no additional
benefits to the people of this country, but only cater to the whims of a select and
unrepresentative few. If the intention was to uplift the plight of the constituents
they seek to represent, then the authorities would have sat down to seriously
consider how economic, social and cultural rights could have been included for
protection in the Constitution, and diverted financing intended for the overblown
Parliament to those who truly need it most.
ZLHR therefore rejects the intended Amendments relating to such re-constitution
of Parliament.
ZLHR notes that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) will, under the
Amendment Bill, take over from the Electoral Supervisory Commission. Although
this will remove the confusion that exists at present over which of the two bodies
bears what responsibility, ZLHR is disappointed that the functions of other
electoral bodies under the Constitution have not been addressed, and feels that
the potential for confusion and abuse will still exist despite the intended
amendments. ZLHR has previously made known its criticisms of the ZEC (which
are available to the Committee upon request), and maintains that this
Amendment Bill will not address our concerns.
In 1999 Zimbabweans were given an opportunity to be consulted about what
they desired in a home-grown constitution, and to decide on whether what was
produced was a true reflection of such desires. They did not believe that what
was offered was acceptable.
The Government has a record of what the people said they wanted in a
Constitution13. What the Amendment Bill proposes is not remotely close to this. If
it is close, and this is not here conceded, then it falls far short insofar as it grants
only that which at present seems convenient to the government and fails to
address pertinent and key issues clamoured for by Zimbabweans in 1999, such
as a wider Bill of Rights which embraces international human rights standards
and norms and really makes a difference in their lives. Second and more
importantly, it totally negates the principle of citizen participation in the
constitution-making process and thereby ignores the input of the ordinary
The benefits of the constitutional consultative process were that people were
able to put their views forward and be heard; it embraced the cardinal principle
of government by the people and for the people. Zimbabwean citizens freely
exercised their constitutionally protected right to participate in governance and in
On the Bill of Rights (including the right to property, protection of the law and freedom of movement)
Zimbabweans said they wanted one which was inter alia wide & detailed, tied to international democratic
practices and treaty standards such as the International Covenants on Civil & Political Rights, Economic,
Social & Cultural Rights, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human
and Peoples’ Rights. On the Legislature Zimbabweans are on record as saying they wanted it to be
Bicameral and strong in that it be the sole legislative authority, the centre of Power made up of a Senate of
60, 10 provinces electing 5 representatives and 10 traditional leaders and a National Assembly of 60
constituency MPs (recallable) + 60 by Proportional Representation
On Electoral Institutions they wanted an independent body with wide powers, fixed terms & numbers
Members nominated, approval by 2/3rd vote in each house, appointed by the President, with a Code of
Conduct and Protection from arbitrary removal.
At no time did they state that they wished the powers and protection of the Judiciary to be removed.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) in Article 21(1) provides that ‘ Everyone has the
right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives…’
and Article 21(3) further adds that ‘The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government;
this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal
suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.’ . The SADC Principles
and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections (2004), though aspirational in nature provided for a
similar principle. The Electoral Act [Chapter 2:13] incorporated similar principles in its S.3 which reads:
‘Subject to the Constitution and this Act, every election shall be conducted in a way that is consistent with
the following principles-
(a) the authority to govern derives from the will of the people demonstrated through
elections that are conducted efficiently, freely, fairly, transparently and properly on the basis
of universal and equal suffrage exercised through a secret ballot; and
(b) every citizen has the right-
a. to participate in government directly or through freely chosen representatives, and is
entitled, without distinction…to stand for office and cast a vote freely;
b. …
c. to participate in peaceful political activity intended to influence the composition and
policies of government;
d. to participate, through civic organizations, in peaceful activities to influence and
challenge the policies of government
the decision-making processes that would shape their lives. This success should
not be overlooked, just as the importance of a truly consultative process should
not be derided.
Surely what appears in the Amendment Bill is not a true reflection of the most
pressing issues in Zimbabwe at present. Again Zimbabweans at no time ever
intimated that they wanted the constitutional question to be addressed in such a
piecemeal fashion. It is submitted that this approach is only delaying the
constitutional question and it will resurface, with ordinary Zimbabweans
clamouring to be included in the process as happened in 1999.
What is so important or unimportant about these provisions that government
would leave it to a Parliament, divided upon party lines, to decide the right of
Zimbabweans to seek and secure the protection of the law or be denied their
right to freedom of movement by the passing of legislation that will withdraw,
cancel or rescind passports or other travel documents? Further it must be
pointed out that Zimbabweans in 1999 illustrated that they were unhappy with
our present ‘Lancaster House Constitution’, and therefore it is peculiar to witness
this concerted effort on the part of Government to consolidate and preserve the
very values and protections of the ‘Lancaster House Constitution’ which we were
told to reject in 1999.
The Amendment Bill, in the opinion of ZLHR, is an unjustifiable attempt to
remove from the people of Zimbabwe fundamental human rights which, by virtue
of being human beings with dignity, they are entitled to and which cannot be
removed. The Bill goes against the very principle of constitutionalism, and is a
bad law.
Our present Constitution has many shortcomings and falls far short of a
document of which the Nation can be proud and willing to respect. It fails to
protect fundamental economic, social and cultural rights and is far from being
truly African in its intent and purposes, realizing the real challenges the country
faces and seeking to uplift the lives of the people through a document which can
be used for active progressive alleviation of bread-and-butter concerns and
hardships. To continue to amend the Constitution to achieve limited and very
selfish objectives should be unacceptable to the Committee and to all MPs who
purport to represent the people who entrusted them with public office.
ZLHR therefore wholeheartedly recommends to the Committee and all
Parliamentarians to reject the Bill and call for wholesale constitutional reform.
This analysis was prepared by Irene Petras (Programmes Coordinator) and Tafadzwa Mugabe (Projects
Lawyer) on behalf of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. © reserved

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