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Of Cabinet folly, contradictions and civil unions

by Miriam Tose Majome
03 Aug 2019 at 08:49hrs | Views
ON Tuesday Cabinet purportedly "withdrew" clause 40 of the Marriages Bill. The clause contained the much-maligned civil partnerships clause that has caused great consternation in the country.

Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said: "Following the explanation by the minister, Cabinet observed that the concept of a 'civil union' or 'partnership' is foreign and not consistent with Zimbabwe's cultural norms as well as its Christian values. Accordingly, Cabinet directed that Section 40, which bears reference to 'Civil Partnerships' be removed forthwith from the proposed Marriages Amendment Bill."

There are so many things wrong with that statement that one does not know where to start.

For a start, it is quite evident that Cabinet chose populism over reason.

Cabinet ministers desperate to endear themselves to an agitated electorate thought it politically expedient to trash a Bill they had approved for tabling just two weeks prior. It was disingenuous for them to feign incredulity over the clause as they did before the cameras.

It was amusing watching the Attorney-General's surprised disdain as if he was encountering the Bill for the first time.

As the government's chief lawyer, everything to do with the law passes through him, so he wasn't fooling anyone.

When people talk about the government's policy inconsistencies, it is things like this which they mean.

The reference to cultural norms and Christian values was just a gimmick to pander to the usual gullible crowds.

All shrewd politicians know that in Africa throwing in the phrase "Christian values" always works like a charm.

It softens the hardest of hearts and most importantly wins votes.

Of importance is the question about the power Cabinet has to make such a pronouncement in the first place.

The Bill has already been tabled in Parliament and Parliament is seized with it, thus the purported cancellation is irregular.

It amounts to undue interference by one arm of government in the affairs of a separate arm.

Most of all, it sets a bad precedent as it means Cabinet will be able to dictate anything it wants to Parliament and it will become law.

Parliament could quite easily become Cabinet's rubber stamp. The cancellation of the clause negates the role and authority of Parliament and its independence.

Even though total separation of powers of arms of the State is an idealistic concept, it is an established principle of governance that must be followed.

Cabinet cannot simply instruct Parliament to do this or that with legislation. Parliament has its own rules and procedures that it has to follow once a Bill has been tabled before it. The procedure regarding Bills in the 5th schedule charges Parliament to proceed without delay once a Bill has been introduced in the house. Parliament has the prerogative to reject, amend or accept Bills.

There is no provision for Cabinet to summarily cancel, reject or withdraw Bills on behalf of Parliament. Cabinet has no authority to set the Constitution aside.

The MP for Harare East Tendai Biti is one of the few legislators with their eye on the ball on this one. He was quoted criticising Cabinet for taking away the people's right to debate the clause.

The Constitution gives people the right where possible to participate in the making of laws that govern them. Cabinet has no right to think for the people as it did.

Section 141(a) and (b) gives people the right to take part in all legislative processes and be consulted about Bills being considered for adoption into law.

Throughout the country people were raring to debate the pros and cons of the clause, because laws about property rights and dissolution of family unions affect them personally, so they have a right to speak and help shape laws that affect them.

However, Cabinet decided to take away that right, as if doing the nation a favour, yet people have agency and can decide what is good or bad for themselves.

So far, Parliament has not commented and we wait to see how it will respond.

There are no prizes for guessing if it will insist in proceeding with the Bill as prescribed by the law or if it will capitulate to the bullying by Cabinet.

If Parliament accedes, it would have condoned future interference.

Given the calibre of some of the current MPs, it is unlikely that they even comprehend what is happening and its implications.

Some of the MPs themselves do not understand the clause and most of it is just flying above their heads.

The majority are just parotting criticism because their constituents expect it of them.

When the Justice minister presented the Bill predictably an uproar ensued and they accused him of trying to destroy marriages.

This is the most common charge against the clause, yet when pressed no-one who has read and properly understood it is able to say exactly how it destroys marriages.

It is clear the majority of people do not understand the clause, including those who are expected to know better like the Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo.

He shockingly said: "Cabinet in its wisdom resolved that we must remain principled and in line so that we will not necessarily encourage illegal activities to take place by appearing as if we are legislating them."

Minister Moyo does not elaborate what the illegal activities are, and if pressed, it is certain that he will not be able to explain himself. He seems unaware that civil unions are the most common form of living arrangements for the majority of couples in this country who live together.

Is he saying the majority of couples who live together are criminals and that their being unmarried is illegal? What kind of thinking is that for a whole Cabinet minister? In one swoop, he insulted the majority of and generations of Zimbabwean couples who ever lived together.

To show that even Cabinet itself is confused, is its tacit acknowledgement that civil partnerships are the majority of domestic arrangements in the country.

The minister goes on to say, "The removal of the clause would not affect rural communities, where couples had lived together as husband and wife for several years without having their marriages registered."

Why the exemption at all? If we say and agree that the majority of people in Zimbabwe live in rural areas then what cultural norms is the Cabinet talking about? On one hand, they acknowledge the commonality of civil partnerships and on the other hand say they are illegal, while simultaneously talking about preserving cultural norms. Whose cultural norms? Does this Cabinet even know what it is saying or who it is serving? Christian values and cultural norms my foot.

People, especially those in the highest offices need to properly understand what they are talking about before they speak. What is true is that very few people understood the civil partnership clause or know and understand the reality of the majority of relationships in this country.

Source - newsday