In order to appreciate the declared reasons for the state of emergency in Zimbabwe, a brief introduction to the new constitutional structure in the country is appropriate.
Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the Lancaster House conference was that the talks produced a settlement which led to a peaceful transition to majority rule. Thus on 18 April 1980 Zimbabwe became independent and was admitted into the United Nations and the Commonwealth with effect from that date. The new Constitution of Zimbabwe provided for a non-executive President with powers and functions resembling those of the British monarch, a Prime Minister and a Cabinet responsible to Parliament. The legislature was a bi-cameral body consisting of a popularly elected House of Assembly and an indirectly elected Senate which merely had a delaying power as regards the passing of legislation. The independence of the judiciary was also recognised. Individual freedoms were protected by a Declaration of Rights which was entrenched and made fully justiciable.
The settlement provided for the election of 80 common roll members to the 100 seat House of Assembly. The parties forming the Patriotic Front fought the elections separately. ZANU(PF) (as the party became known) 1 led by Robert Mugabe won 57 seats and accordingly he was appointed Prime Minister. ZAPU (now known as PF-ZAPU) led by Joshua Nkomo won 20 seats while the UANC won just three, thus underlining the fraudulent nature of the internal settlement. 2 The Rhodesia Front party won all the 20 seats reserved for whites. The make-up of the legislature was later radically altered with the abolition of the white roll seats, the establishment of a uni-cameral body, and the enlargement of the membership to 150. At all times, the ruling party enjoyed a commanding majority.
The indirectly elected President had largely ceremonial powers with political power being vested in the Prime Minister and a Cabinet made up of ministers appointed by the President acting on the advice of the Prime Minister. In only a strictly limited number of circumstances was the President able to act independently and these mainly related to the appointment or removal of the Prime Minister. The powers were only important in the event of a hung Parliament and the commanding majority of ZANU(PF) thus rendered them superfluous. This left the President as something of a figurehead although from time to time he was able to perform a useful advisory role. 3 The establishment of an executive President was always the goal of ZANU(PF) and in 1987 major constitutional changes 4 brought this about with Robert Mugabe being elected President. 5
The Constitution provides that the President may proclaim at any time that a state of emergency exists or that a situation exists which, if allowed to continue, may lead to a state of emergency. 6 The proclamation may relate to the whole or part of the country. This action requires the approval of more than one half of the total membership of Parliament within fourteen days, failing which it ceases to have effect and the President must revoke