The Civil Society Constitution Agenda (CiSCA) has been launched in Lusaka with a focus to push for the holding of a referendum to enact the Bill of Rights and drive the upholding of the rule of law.
Various civil society organisations converged at Matero Community Hall in Lusaka on Thursday.
CiSCA Chairperson Bishop John Mambo said now is the time for all Zambians to unite and demand for a constitution that would benefit all citizens.
He also stressed the need for patriotic Zambians to come on board and join CiSCA which he described as a grand coalition which will give Zambians a good constitution which will stand a test of time.
“CiSCA will therefore embark on civic education and ensure that Zambians can stand up to defend their constitution and claim their rights besides pushing for the upholding of the rule of law, respecting the supremacy and sanctity of the constitution of Zambia,” said Bishop Mambo.
And CiSCA Vice Chairperson Pamela Chisanga said Zambia has been on a long, tedious and costly journey of reviewing and amending its constitution but has failed due to political interests by constitution hijackers.
“Our constitution making processes have sadly been hijacked by political interests. The recent constitution making process initiated by the late President Michael Sata in 2011 is the latest in this series of constitution making blunders witnessed in this country,” said Ms. Chisanga.
“Sadly, our country, after 20 years of various constitutional reforms, has not been able to enact a constitution that meets the aspirations of its citizens.”
She said Zambians have been looking forward to a constitution that would eventually entrench the rule of law, reduce impunity by those in power, decentralize decision making and development processes and guarantees independence of state governance institutions and above all recognizes and guarantees economic and social rights.
She said Zambians were again short changed in a process devoid of a political commitment by those in power to give Zambians what they wanted.
“The referendum was held alongside the general elections and was therefore highly politicized. There was no real sensitization and engagement of citizens to understand and participate in the referendum. Whatever sensitization undertaken was merely a window dressing exercise as the referendum was deliberately set up to fail. Civil society raised these concerns with government but these concerns were ignored,” she said.
She further expressed regret by the current government’s attempts to mutilate the constitution.
“We, as concerned citizens, are alive to the fact that it is not enough just to have a good constitution. The constitution must be respected; it must be upheld. We note, with a lot of regret, overtures by the current government to mutilate and invalidate our constitution,” said Ms Chisanga.
“Our democracy can only mature and thrive if we respect and uphold the supreme law of the land – the constitution and where state institutions protect all citizens and not individuals. It is against this background that the Civil Society Constitution Agenda has been birthed.”
And Kitwe based Anglican Priest Father Richard Luonde said it is unwise for President Edgar Lungu to say the country doesn’t have money for a referendum when he (Lungu) and his cabinet could travel to Israel for photo shooting.
“This nation needs a good constitution which will reflect the true aspiration of Zambians. We can’t afford to live in a country where there are no laws; we need a constitution that will stand for all Zambians and give them the power which belongs to them,” said Fr. Luonde.
“Today we have launched this crusade; and I want to assure you that we will not rest until we have a good constitution which our next generation will use to lead a dignified life. And the first step is to hold a referendum; and it is unwise for President Lungu to say the nation doesn’t have money for a referendum when he has money to fly with half of his cabinet to Israel for photo shooting.”
And Zambia Civic Education Association executive director Judith Mulenga in giving a vote of thanks urged Zambians to stand up for a free press and defend the media.
“We still want the referendum to strengthen the Bill of Rights that will give us the power to demand what which we deserve and need from government,” she said.
“But above all, we must fight for our rights; we need the media to be free because the media means well for our democracy. We must defend the media; we shouldn’t leave the media to fight alone when they suppressed. Let’s all stand up and fight for our constitution for a better Zambia.”
Other notable figures present at the launch that was attended by hundreds of people from various civil society organisations across the country include NGOCC board chairperson Sara Longwe, former FODEP executive director McDonald Chipenzi and ZCSD executive director Lewis Mwape.