Zimbabwe constitution change passed

Dancing, cheering lawmakers approved sweeping constitutional changes that prominent lawyers have called the greatest challenge yet to Zimbabwean civil liberties.

    Zimbabwe faces IMF expulsion because of a $295 million debt

    Ruling party representatives erupted into celebration on Tuesday after parliament voted 103-29 to endorse the constitutional overhaul that sharply restricts property rights and allows the government to deny passports to its critics.

    The 22-clause Constitutional Amendment Bill goes to President Robert Mugabe to sign into law.

    The slate of amendments, the 17th since independence from Britain in 1980, abolishes freehold property titles and strips landowners of their right to appeal against expropriation.

    All real estate will be on a 99-year lease from the government, though details have yet to be worked out.

    Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said this would stop 5000 evicted white farmers from frustrating land redistribution to black Zimbabweans.

    End of colonisation

    "It will close the chapter of colonisation," Chinamasa said during a stormy half-hour debate that preceded the vote.

    The bill gives the government authority to deny passports if it is deemed in the national interest.


    White farmers are accused of
    frustrating land redistribution

    "This will take away the right of those people to go outside the country and ask other countries to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe," said Chinamasa, who is among 200 of Mugabe's elite barred from travelling or owning bank accounts in the United States and European Union countries.

    A new 66-seat Senate will be formed, which opposition members say the ruling party will use to increase its patronage powers.

    "The new constitutional provisions represent a serious assault on citizens basic rights and freedoms," the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change said in a statement. "This is a sad day for Zimbabwean democracy."


    Lovemore Madhuku, whose National Constitutional Assembly reform alliance mobilised opposition to Mugabe's attempt in 2000 to entrench his rule indefinitely, predicted swift implementation of the changes.

    Repressive measures

    "I think (Mugabe) is likely to sign the bill into law in the fastest possible time - even within four days or so," said Madhuku. "He wants to have elections for the Senate by October."

    Madhuku said the amendments add to a host of repressive measures imposed by Mugabe's 25-year-old government.


    "It will close the chapter of colonisation"

    Patrick Chinamasa,
    Zimbabwe's justice minister

    "But in time, it will eventually collapse," he said. "Do you think the people are going to accommodate this for all time?"


    There had been concerns within Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front that the party might not mobilise enough support to pass the bill after it cleared a preliminary ballot with 61 votes to 28.

    The party, though, controlled 107 of parliament's 150 seats, more than the two-thirds required to change the constitution.


    Twenty-eight members of the opposition MDC, which has 41 seats in parliament, voted against the bill.


    The lone independent legislator, Mugabe's former minister of communications Jonathan Moyo, faced a barrage of catcalls from his former colleagues when he too opposed the changes.


    Hopes dashed


    The opposition says approval of the amendments will destroy any hope of agreement with Western donors for aid.

    A team from the International Monetary Fund wraps up a two-week visit on Friday to reassess Zimbabwe's economic crisis before a 9 September board meeting that could expel the country for failing to make payments on $295 million in arrears.

    The seizure of white-owned commercial farms, combined with years of drought, have crippled the country's agriculture-based economy.

    Four million are in urgent need of food aid in what was once a regional breadbasket, according to UN estimates.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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