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High Court Rejects NCA Application Seeking Delay of Constitutional Referendum

Judge president George Chiweshe on Thursday dismissed the National Constitutional Assembly's High Court application seeking to postpone Zimbabwe's constitutional referendum saying the courts have no power to change a date set by President Robert Mugabe.

In reaching the decision, Mr. Chiweshe said: "He (Mugabe) can do whatever he wants as long as the constitution allows it."

In his ruling, Chiweshe said: “These provisions are clear and unambiguous. I am convinced that the powers given to the first respondent [President] by Section 3 of the Referendums Act, being wide, discretionary and unfettered, fall into the category of those powers under Section 31, wherein the first respondent [President] is required to act on his own deliberate judgment.”

The president announced mid-February that the referendum would be held on March 16, allowing voters only five weeks to review the 160-page draft charter.

The ruling indicates that Mr. Mugabe acted within his powers in announcing the dates of the referendum and this cannot be challenged.

The NCA argues that Zimbabweans have not been given enough time to read and understand the draft constitution.

The pressure group, in placing its application, argued that Zimbabweans needed at least two months, not 30 days, to conduct civic education to analyze the draft charter ahead of the national vote.

In a statement, the NCA dismissed the ruling saying it was dismayed by the judge's remarks which it said implied that no court in Zimbabwe can question the president over anything that he does or declares.

NCA attorney Alec Muchadehama said the judge misconstrued what powers are given to the president by the constitution.

Mr. Muchadehama said under law where the president acts, and his actions affect the rights of private citizens, Zimbabweans are free to go to court and challenge that action.
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The NCA plans to appeal in the Supreme Court ahead of the referendum, expected to be held in two weeks.

With just slightly over two weeks to go before the constitutional referendum vote in which Zimbabweans will be asked to accept or reject the draft charter, many say they have not been able to get access to the draft document.

COPAC outreach meetings have failed to attract huge numbers of people in some areas. For perspective on the on-going COPAC campaign and its partners ahead of the referendum, we reached out to Hamaruwoko Chatyoka of Mukumbura, Mt. Darwin North, and NCA information officer Blessing Vava.

Chatyoka said getting access to the draft charter is not important.