Did you know that the current Lancaster House Constitution does not explain what founding principles it is based on? That’s not a big deal-right? Wrong. It is important to define these principles.
Why are the founding principles important?
The founding principles of a constitution are important for the following reasons:
- They are the core values on which a nation is founded
- They guide the interpretation of the constitution itself
- They inform the content of every law so that it is in line with the constitution
- They reflect the aspirations of the nation and its hopes for the future
What are the founding principles in the COPAC Draft Constitution?
1. The supremacy of the Constitution
This means that the Constitution is the most important law in Zimbabwe. Any other law which contradicts or opposes the Constitution will be invalid and parliament can be advised to revise it or completely throw it away. So, for instance, if the Constitution provides for freedom of movement yet laws on loitering prevent women from being able to move around by themselves and regulations on acquiring passports are so difficult that many people are restricted from travelling outside the country, these laws and regulations could be challenged in a court of law for contradicting the Constitution and for taking away the rights provided for in the Constitution.
2. The creation of obligations that bind natural and juristic persons
Natural persons are human beings. Juristic persons are entities or bodies that are created by law; these include companies, corporations, universities and such other institutions. What this principle means is that people and all other institutions have legal obligations within Zimbabwean law. They can be held accountable in courts of law. So if an industry dumps toxic waste into a river where people fetch their water or into a river that feeds into a source of water, the people can go to court and sue the company because the company is recognised as having an obligation not to infringe the rights of other persons.
3. The recognition of the inherent dignity of each human being
What makes us, as human beings different from all other animals is the humanity (ubuntu), (hunhu) within us. That humanity is reinforced by our dignity. Hence if someone is humiliated or treated like an animal through torture or some other ill-treatment, then their dignity is stripped away. The COPAC Draft Constitution is protecting this dignity and defining it as one of the core values that make us Zimbabwean.
4. Equality of all human beings
All men are born equal. That is why at birth we are all naked, tiny and vulnerable whether our parents are rich or poor; black, white or coloured; short or tall; fat or thin. This is how we were made. Inequalities begin when we treat each other unequally ,for instance when some people are given better protection by the law than others or when certain sectors of society receive land while others are denied the same right or when some people are targeted by the police, harassed and arrested for the same conduct that others are not. The Draft Constitution emphasises that all these inequalities should not exist and should not be allowed by law.
Part 2 to follow tomorrow.