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Zimbabwean Civil Society Groups Threaten ‘No-Vote’ Campaign Over Devolution

Some non-governmental organizations threaten a no-vote in the constitutional referendum if the draft does not include devolution of power and related issues

Zimbabwean civil society groups in Matabeleland and Bulawayo provinces, in the western part of the country, are stepping up pressure on unity government negotiators as drafters aim to produce a draft constitution this week, vowing to launch a no vote campaign if the issue of devolution is not included in the document.

The two formations of the Movement for Democratic Change say they support the devolution concept with select committee co-chairman Douglas Mwonzora revealing recently that 10 provinces in the country supported the idea during the constitutional outreach phase.

Supporters of devolution say some provinces have over the years been neglected by the current unitary state, but early this month President Robert Mugabe said the concept was divisive, adding the country was too small to be divided into “pieces”.

Some of the organizations calling for a no vote campaign fall under the National Association of Non-Governmental Organizations.

NANGO chairperson Dadirai Chikwengo, however, told Voice of America that the organization has not yet finalized a national position on the issue.

But the organization’s secretary general, Godwin Phiri, who is also NANGO chairman for Bulawayo region, said western provinces were engaging and encouraging other regions to join them and adopt a ‘no vote’ position if devolution of power is not included in the draft constitution, expected out this Friday.

“We have actually received a lot of support from across country, so whilst other regions might not have released statements we are certainly encouraging them to also go forward and meet with their members and adopt this position.”

He stressed: “That does not mean that NANGO members don’t believe in devolution of power.”

National Constitutional Assembly chairman Lovemore Madhuku, whose pressure group has already said it will not support the new draft constitution, says the latest stance by the NGOs is a welcome move.

Madhuku says devolution is not a regional but national issue, adding civil society organizations should speak with one voice on the issue.

“It’s a challenge for NANGO. NANGO must not be run on the basis of its Matabeleland section or it’s out of Matabeleland section and so forth.”

“If you were to come to the NCA, we do not have Matabeleland positions. Our position is very clear that there must be devolution in a people driven constitution and that is not a Matabeleland issue, it’s an issue for the whole country,” added Madhuku.