Zimbabwe’s Referendum: Hope Springs Eternal

Early on Saturday 16 March, at around 2:30 am, we left the city for the village. It was a historic day for Zimbabwe, a day when Zimbabweans would get to adopt or reject a new constitution, and my brother decided he would cast his vote in the village.

When the process to come up with a new constitution began a very long time ago, like most Zimbabweans my hopes were raised- finally we would have our very own constitution, made by Zimbabweans for Zimbabweans. But more than three years and 50 million dollars later and after a lot of haggling by the politicians my hopes are dampened and I wonder if there is still much of what anyone said in the new constitution.

As we drove towards the village that chilly Saturday morning I hoped even more, that this document, whose importance I have never fully appreciated, would live to its expectations. After all if all the three principals in government agreed then it must be good enough.

At some point during our journey my brother, who is a lawyer, said “I am sure that if this draft had not been endorsed by the MDC and ZANU Pf it would be rejected by the people. In fact if anyone had taken time to read it they would be inclined to vote ‘NO’.”

He went on to explain some flaws in the draft, such as the size of the new Parliament and how the draft could be amended at a later date without the need for a referendum. And then he said, “But more than ninety percent will vote yes.”

Indeed, it seemed most people would vote ‘YES’, mainly because President Mugabe and PM Tsvangirai were both urging people to vote yes. Secondly people want progress, even imperfect progress, and voting ‘NO’ would only take us back to square one.

Hours later, in the village, I overhead two men discussing the referendum and whether they would vote:
“Have you voted?” asked the first and older of them.
“No, not yet, it’s still early. Besides what do I vote for, I don’t know what the document says, do you?”
“Yes, I heard it being discussed on radio…”
“The constitution is a big document, what if they were only discussing the appealing parts…”
“The government says it’s right, it must be.”
“For the government maybe…”

They moved on, still arguing in a good natured way. That is one good thing about the referendum, because the major parties were in agreement there wasn’t likely going to be any violence.

Voting at the village’s polling station was smooth and I hoped that real elections would be just as peaceful. Perhaps it was peaceful because most people had no idea what they were voting for.A more cheerful thought is that we have achieved political maturity and tolerance. I hope that is the case.

Later I went to the village beer hall, where, because everyone knows each other and everyone else’s parents, I spent hours in conversation with many of the villagers.
Tawanda mwanangu wanatsa wauya kuzovhota kuno, one man said. “Tawanda you did a good thing by coming to vote in the village.” I regretfully told him that I had forgotten my ID card and so I had not voted. “Hazvina mhaka, kwanga kuri kungowedzera gumi muzana.” It does not matter, you would have just added ‘ten to hundreds’, he said, still smiling. Adding ‘ten to hundreds’ is a Shona saying that means the same as adding a drop to the ocean. The man implied I would have added my ‘YES’ vote to other millions of YES votes in the country. I am not so sure.
I could see the hopes of the villagers on their faces when they spoke of ‘Bumbiro Remutemo’, The Constitution, and how it would improve their lives. It is a beautiful place, my village, and I feel most human when I am there, far away from the noise and pollution of the cities, from the hypocrisy, superficial smiles and hate. I wish we all had such a place, especially the comrades who are used by politicians to perpetrate political violence, a place where our humanness is reasserted.
Yesterday it was announced that the YES vote triumphed, with over three million votes to the NO vote’s less than two hundred thousand. It seems we have a new constitution after all.
And I found myself hoping that this election would be different, that it would be peaceful and help set the country on a path to the realization of its full potential.
So many hopes, hopes of peace, success, tolerance in our diversity… Hope keeps us alive and strong.
As we adopt a new constitution and head towards election, armed with hope I am reminded of the words of Alexander Pope, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast…”

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