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Zimbabwe Parliamentary Committee Says Constitutional Outreach Running Smoothly


Non-governmental organizations monitoring the process said intimidation and violence continue to cast a shadow over the process, discouraging participation in politically contested provincial and rural areas

The select committee of the Zimbabwean parliament responsible for overhauling the country's constitution said on Wednesday that the public outreach phase of the exercise, troubled initially by disorganization and reported political intimidation especially in rural areas, is now going well with more than 1,000 meetings successfully held.

But non-governmental organizations monitoring the process said intimidation and violence continue to cast a shadow over the process, discouraging participation in politically contested provincial and rural areas.

Committee co-chairman Edward Mkhosi said outreach teams have held 930 meetings nationwide involving some 153,000 people - 42 percent men, 41 percent women, and 15 percent youths.

Queried about reports of violence or intimidation in certain parts of the country, Mkhosi said his committee regards such reports as rumor and has not yet ascertained the facts.

Such incidents have been reported in particular in the Mashonaland region and in Manicaland province, where much violence occurred during and after the 2008 presidential and general elections, leaving hundreds dead.

Civil society activists who have geared up to monitor the outreach process say even minimal violence is unacceptable in a process as important as the revision of the country's basic document.

VOA was unable to reach an authorized spokesperson for the independent NGO monitoring organization that is observing the process for comment on the committee’s characterization of the outreach process.

But there is clearly public concern about intimidation: in a VOA Studio 7 Web poll asking visitors if Zimbabweans are generally free to speak their minds on the constitution, about 85 percent of respondents answered “No.”

Zimbabwe Human Rights Association National Director Okay Machisa told VOA Studio 7 reporter Patience Rusere that intimidation and violence are discouraging certain groups of people from participating freely in the process.

The process was put on hold this week for the reopening of Parliament, at which President Robert Mugabe spoke, and for Finance Minister Tendai Biti's mid-year budget and economic statement.

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