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One Year On, Zimbabwe's New Constitution Has Little Impact

FILE - President Robert Mugabe signs Zimbabwe's new constitution into law in Harare, May 22, 2013.

FILE - President Robert Mugabe signs Zimbabwe's new constitution into law in Harare, May 22, 2013.

This week marks one year since Zimbabwe adopted a new constitution. But the new charter has not done much in bringing a social and economic turnaround.

When President Robert Mugabe signed a new constitution into law last May, many Zimbabweans hoped years of turmoil, repression and economic misery were coming to an end.

However, little has changed in the one year since. The economy shows few signs of life, President Mugabe remains in firm control of the government, and average Zimbabweans appear to have no greater rights than they did before.

Maddock Chivasa is spokesman of National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), an organization that opposed the new constitution, saying it was a political document and not people-driven.

“From the NCA perspective we don’t believe there is anything to celebrate about, if we take into consideration that in the first instance the constitution itself did not come from the people of Zimbabwe - it came from the politicians who were there in the government of national coalition the two MDC’s and ZANU-PF," he said. "So when you look at several aspects in the constitution, you realize that most of the things that are there don’t identify with the general person, the ordinary person in Zimbabwe. We can actually say we don’t have a constitution in Zimbabwe."

Patience Zirima from Media Alliance of Zimbabwe - an umbrella body of journalists - says reporters continue to be harassed despite the new constitution's guarantees of freedom of the press.

"Since the passing of the new constitution we have seen no commitment whatsoever to ensure that the provisions that are set, in terms of provision of access to information and freedom of expression, are being promoted in Zimbabwe," said Zirima. "We also note that there is still a lot of criminalization of the media that remains; journalists being arrested. So I think as the media sector at this point we have nothing to celebrate."

Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party drafted the new constitution during its coalition with the now opposition Movement for Democratic Change. The new charter - which replaced the one drafted on the eve of Zimbabwe’s independence from Great Britain in 1980 - was seen by many as having a strong bill of rights.

Pro-ZANU-PF political analyst Owen Gwara says the party had to include what he calls “alien” elements in the constitution, which he now thinks should be removed.

“We need to do a thorough Zimbabwean thing in our constitution. So there is a lot which needs to be done and other laws to be changed. Unfortunately some of the laws need to be repealed. We need to sit down, revisit some of those laws,” said Gwara.

With a two-thirds majority in Zimbabwe's parliament, President Mugabe’s party can easily change the constitution or repeal laws seen as not in line with the charter.

On Thursday, Zimbabwe’s state media quoted the country’s junior justice minister, Fortune Chasi, saying the government had started aligning 400 laws with the new constitution.

But whatever it decides to do, some Zimbabweans still feel that nothing has changed.