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Call For Legitimising the New Zambian Constitution

 

Call For Legitimising the New Zambian Constitution
 
by The Christian Council of Zambia, The Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia, and The Zambian Episcopal Conference

 

 
3 October 1995

 

 

 

 

In the next three Pastoral Letters, namely: Call For Legitimising the New Zambian Constitution (1995), Church Leaders' Statement on the Constitutional Debate (1995), and Open Letter to the President and Members of Parliament (1996), the Catholic bishops, and other Christian leaders, sought to offer a moral guide on what was to be done regarding the adoption of the amended constitution. The concern of the Bishops was the Government intention of rushing the constitution through parliament without exhausting consultations with the general public. The constitution the Government wanted to rush through parliament had contentious issues, which needed further debate. When they made this call, the Church leaders emphasised that the constitution, being a document of the highest importance needed to be recognised and respected by all citizens. This could only happen if the citizens viewed the document as theirs by a deliberate process that allowed the people’s input to be officially recognised. This is why the process recommended by the Mwanakatwe Commission, of a constituent assembly, was a necessary condition towards popularising the constitution. According to the Church leaders, this was the only process that would deal adequately with the contentious issues that needed a broad national consensus before adoption. In spite of these appeals the Government used its majority in parliament to amend the constitution in a manner that marred the 1996 elections when UNIP boycotted the elections.

    We, Church leaders, have listened to the people's apprehension about the Government's white Paper, regarding the adoption of the New Constitution. We wish to add our voice to the call of how best the proposed constitution can be legitimised.
  1. The Constitution of a Country is a national document of the highest importance. As the supreme law of the land, it must be recognised and respected as embodying the sovereign will of the majority of the people. The mode of adoption can either facilitate or obstruct this popular acceptance and recognition.
  2. We share the apprehension of the people for the following reasons:
    1. Ratification only by Parliament would deny the citizenry participation in the wide public debate, clarification and editing necessary to make the document truly a popular expression.
    1. There is danger of a repeat of what occurred after the Mvunga Commission's Constitution in 1991, when the new Government immediately began a process for writing a new constitution. What would stop the next Government from repeating this process, which is very expensive and confusing to the general public and lessens the respect due to the Constitution?
    2. There are sections in the Draft constitution, which are highly controversial, and therefore deserving of widespread debate that would contribute to decisions regarding the final wording.
    3. We feel that the members of the Mwanakatwe Constitution Review Commission have done what was required of them notwithstanding the anxieties, which characterised the whole process. We give full support to the procedures they proposed concerning the adoption of the Constitution, that is, by subjecting it to the scrutiny of a Constituent Assembly (whose members will be as per recommendations in the Mwanakatwe Report) and finally passing it through a Referendum. This is the only way the Country will come up with a document that will be viewed as legitimate by the majority of the citizens and be able to stand the test of time. Simply offering the Constitution to the Parliament, as suggested by the white paper, is unacceptable as a forward step in the process of democratisation of Zambia's Third Republic.

      Rev. G. Schultz,   Chairman - E.F.Z   Rev. V Sampa Bredt,   Fr. General Secretary, CCZ   Ignatius Mwebe,   Secretary General - ZEC

Issued in the Times of Zambia, October 3, 1995