VETERAN politician Akashambatwa Mbikusita Lewanika has deplored a trend in Zambia where constitution-making is anchored on a mentality of wina azalila (someone will cry).
Lewanika, popularly known as Aka, highlights that: “the constitutional mutilation culture has been in Zambia from the very beginning.”
“We can’t be more than 50 years and you are still fine-tuning the same Constitution!” Aka said, in an interview, at his residence in Mongu on Thursday.
He gave a historical explanation of constitution-making in Zambia, from as far back as the 1960s.
The fluent Aka said what must be understood was that the original Constitution, “the independence Constitution of Zambia was a compromise to try to accommodate different interests.”
“It was a balancing act,” he said, before giving a bit of a summary of constitutional history.
“I’ll summarise it a bit. As moves were going towards the independence of Northern Rhodesia, there was the question of the status of Barotseland, which had to be settled before you decide that when Northern Rhodesia becomes independent what are the territories that will be there. Then the second part is that as Zambia was going to independence, it was quite clear that there will be majority rule and the majority are indigenous Africans. So, those Europeans who wanted to continue to be in this country and to become Zambians had concerns….”
Mbikusita Lewanika recalled that in 1962, there was an election, under some Constitution, “which couldn’t produce clear ideas; it led to a coalition.”
He noted that the next election was in January 1964 and that after those elections, UNIP won an overwhelming majority.
“The British decided that ‘this is enough election; we are now moving towards independence.’ So, there was also concern by the party which was minority – the African National Congress. Their concern was that this Zambia we are going into, is it going to have room for minority parties…” he said.
“For the Europeans, their concern was mostly property and race. Again, the negotiation was to assure them that although there will be a dominant black government, it will not be a racist one and there will be no revenge. So, the constitutional regime was a compromise between these various positions and to anchor those, there was a referendum clause.”
Mbikusita Lewanika added that the then referendum clause demanded that any change in the Constitution required a referendum whose question had to be positively replied to: “by 50 per cent of eligible voters, not registered voters.”
He explained that “unfortunately” in 1969, a referendum was held specifically to abolish the referendum clause.
“When the Zambians gave that yes vote, it was a blank check to start the process of changing the Constitution without a referendum and along partisan and personal level, which is what we are still doing,” Mbikusita Lewanika explained.
“So, what is happening today is not new; it was licensed in 1969 when the majority of Zambians gave a yes vote to the removal of that referendum anchor.”
He believes the number one thing Zambians have to do on constitution-making is to understand where their problem arises: “so that we can re-trace our steps.”
“We need to review every change made to the independence Constitution, one-by-one, and find out whether a particular change was made just for the ruling party, a person, against some people. If so, we must remove it and go back to the slate,” Mbikusita Lewanika said.
“It (the independence Constitution) was not perfect; it was a compromise but how you move from an imperfect agreement has also to be orderly and it has to be agreed.”
He further pointed out that nobody should have rights, which they had in 1964, removed from them through a constitution amendment process.
“But to remove [rights], then it causes the situation we are in of aggrieved people and politics of wina azalila. We’ve been changing constitutions knowing very well that if we pass this law, wina azalila and we’ve already earmarked who should cry when you pass your bill,” Mbikusita Lewanika said.
“That is not the spirit in which that original dispensation of independence was made. That is why people of totally different ideologies; people in the African National Congress who were opposed to the ideologies of UNIP were able to say ‘on the basis of this Constitution, we can go together.’ The white people who were suspicious of blacks said ‘on the basis of this Constitution, we can go together’ [and] Barotseland, some of whom wanted independence, said ‘on the basis of this Constitution, let’s go together’.”
He regretted that today, all those anchorages that held up Zambia had been destroyed.
Mbikusita Lewanika said he was prepared for any group of young people to discuss Zambia’s history as a way to chatting the way forward, which is absolutely essential.