The Declaration which sparked the whole debate


The National Working People’s Convention held in Harare on  26-28 February 1999, gathered working people from all corners of Zimbabwe, rural and urban, and from all economic sectors:

  • to identify and state the aspirations and priorities of the nation,
  • to identify the strategies to address these national priorities, and
  • to unify working people around an agenda for action based on these strategies.

The convention noted:

  • the inability of the economy to address the basic needs of the majority of Zimbabweans;
  • the severe decline in incomes, employment, health, food security and well being of people;
  • the unfair burden borne by working women and persistence of gender discrimination in practice;
  • the decline, and in some cases collapse, of public services;
  • the lack of progress in resolving land hunger and rural investment needs;
  • the weak growth in industry and marginalisation of the vast majority of the nations entrepreneurs;
  • the absence of a national constitution framed by, and for, the people;
  • the persistence of regionalism, racism, and other divisions undermining national integration;
  • widespread corruption and lack of public accountability in political and economic institutions.

The convention noted that the inability to implement any meaningful steps to redress these basic economic and social problems emanates from a crisis of governance within the nation.

This crisis expresses itself as a failure of government to observe the separation of powers between executive, legislature and judiciary; to obey basic rules of accountability and transparency; to respect human rights and to decentralise power in ways that enable meaningful participation of people in public institutions.

Accordingly the convention debated and adopted specific strategies to address these problems and to meet the aspirations of working people in Zimbabwe. These strategies are outlined in detail in the Agenda for Action of the National Working Peoples Convention.

More generally, the convention resolved that a path to positive and sustainable economic and political development be restored in Zimbabwe, and in this respect, that:

  • A people’s constitution be written by the time of the elections in 2000, through a constitutional commission not based on Presidential appointment, but defined by and accountable to a conference of representatives of elected, civil and other social groups.

Such a constitution should provide clearly for basic social, economic and civil rights, for the clear separation of powers between the executive, judiciary and legislature; for the limitation of the powers of the executive, for such powers of the electorate as to make parliament fully accountable to the people. The electoral process should be guaranteed in the constitution, supervised by an independent electoral commission.

  • A peoples constitution, as a reflection of a national value system, should be accompanied by a truth and reconciliation commission to deal with unresolved aspects of our past that hinder national integration.It should further be supported by a clear, accessible and popularly understood mechanism for arbitration on, and enforcement of, constitutional rights.
  • National policies should prioritise the mobilisation and organisation of resources to meet people’s basic needs for food security, shelter, clean water, health and education, the equitable distribution of resources such as land, skills, capital and technology for production and industrialisation strategies that are based on building and using the capabilities of the people for production.
  • Immediate measures should be taken to reduce inflation, including a contractionary monetary policy complemented through fiscal policy; rationalisation of ministries and reduction of wasteful expenditure; strengthened independence and powers of state audit and action on transgressions found; widening of export incentives and control of non- essential imports, vigorous promotion of local products and self reliant approaches to food security.
  • These measures be supported by negotiations to reschedule and restructure the debt, including possible debt relief, with strengthened controls on, and powers of, parliament in respect of any areas of new borrowing. The country should aim to reduce its dependency on foreign loans and the loss of sovereignty that this brings.
  • These and other measures be specified and implemented through a mechanism for national consensus that involves all national stakeholders, that has a mandate to negotiate, implement and evaluate economic measures; that is defined by law and that is mandated to negotiate a social contract on immediate pressing issues in an open, transparent manner that builds trust and accountability between the parties and that is carried out in an environment of respect for the rights of the participating parties.
  • Zimbabwe position itself more effectively for the next millennium and for global competition through strategic investment in skills, technology, infrastructure, product design and supporting education and labour market systems, to enable the country to develop market niches and value added production.
  • The state’s role in production systems be redefined towards facilitation rather than interference, with state intervention strategic, targeted, transparent and time bound; aimed at resolving market failures; augmenting the market in a manner that maximises social welfare and overcoming constraints to or providing incentives for development of areas of future growth and economic opportunity. Where market failures severely weaken the ability of people to procure basic rights to food, shelter, health and education, the state shall intervene with targeted, end user directed and time bound subsidies.
  • Active, transparent and time bound measures be taken to resolve land hunger in a manner that links the ownership, distribution and use of land to a policy of sustainable agricultural development and rural industrialisation and that balances agricultural employment with wider and new job opportunities in rural areas. That land be redistributed in a manner that is driven by the people through democratic, transparent and gender sensitive processes; with clear criteria and mechanisms for accountability guiding redistribution, backed by the social and economic investments to make that redistribution meaningful and with any land or agricultural taxes ploughed back into agricultural development.
  • Land should be recognised as a national asset, and that it therefore remain in state ownership, with individual ownership through tradable long term leases, backed by legal protection of individuals rights. The legal provisions for ownership of natural resources (land, water, minerals) be reviewed to ensure that access to these resources can be widened for sustainable production.

The convention further resolved that measures be taken to restore a people driven process towards social development, that mobilises and organises capacities within communities and that matches them with complementary inputs from the state, according to agreed and legally defined standards.

Accordingly the convention resolved that:

  • The right to a minimum standard of health inputs (food, water, shelter) and health care be defined and entrenched in the constitution, guaranteed and funded on an equitable basis by the state through its mobilisation of national resources. Greater priority should be given to prevention of ill health. Community mobilisation of resource inputs for health should be complemented by the equitable allocation of health resources (drugs, staff etc.) to the district level. Public participation and accountability in health should be entrenched through stakeholder health development structures from village to national level that are adequately supported to plan, mobilise and monitor agreed health standards and interventions.
  • Mechanisms should be put in place to equitably and efficiently distribute public, private and household resources for education to enhance the quality of education, and to review the nature of the education curriculum and the support services provided to better prepare children with the skills and orientation needed to tap the economic and employment opportunities in the next millennium. Education and learning should be treated as an ongoing process, with facilities for decentralised vocational training, in service training and incentive systems to encourage and reward such training. The changes in education should be driven by intersectoral planning, to ensure education is oriented towards and supports areas of economic and social development, and by mechanisms for participation of key stakeholders, including parents.
  • The right of equality of opportunity for men and women should be recognised and entrenched in the Constitution, with appropriate measures to implement this in law and practice in the domestic, educational, health, economic, employment and political spheres where gender discrimination is still found.
  • A housing policy should be developed that integrates housing development across the country; matches community efforts and resources with state, employer and institutional resources, develops new possibilities for building materials and for procurement and distribution of materials; decentralises the organisation of housing delivery and ensures, through joint state/stakeholder mechanisms and public reporting, public accountability in the management of finances for and delivery of land and other inputs to housing.
  • Media freedom should be enshrined in the constitution, supported by an independent media commission and by laws providing for public rights of access to information and for curtailment of government control over and interference in the media. Media and public information should respect the diverse cultures and religious groups.

The National Working Peoples Convention noted that these resolutions, and the more detailed agenda for action that arises from them, will not be realised without a strong, democratic, popularly driven and organised movement of the people. Such a movement should recognise and protect the discrete and independent role and mandates of the various organisations of working people, including the labour movement, informal traders organisations and peasant farmers associations.

The convention thus resolved to take these issues to the people across the country, to mobilise them towards the working peoples agenda, and to implement a vigorous and democratic political movement for change.


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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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