Some Zimbabweans have cited concern over whether they will get an opportunity to vote in this year’s general election, which has been plagued by delays.
The polls have been dubbed the most crucial since the ousting of late longtime leader Robert Mugabe through a coup in 2017.
Although citizens started queuing since the early hours of Wednesday morning, many still have not had an opportunity to cast their ballots.
Out of 15 million people, a mere 6.6 million citizens are registered to vote, excluding expats.
While the main opposition party accused the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) of questionable conduct, which they denied, one voter claims she registered to vote but did not appear on the voters’ roll.
“Today in the morning when I got to Chegutu, my name wasn’t there – that’s at my polling station. I was advised to check the surrounding polling stations, and I went to about three. My name wasn’t there. I went back to mine, just to be sure my name wasn’t there as well, and there was no help.”
But the ZEC noted in a press statement that some polling stations delayed opening, such as those in Harare, due to the delayed printing of ballot papers.
Voice of America reporter Nokuthaba Dlamini spoke to News365 UK about the elections north of Zimbabwe.
“At the Hwange district in Matabeleland where I am, political parties and voters have been frustrated since the morning after observing that their names are missing from the voter’s roll list.
“Currently, both parties are randomly inquiring from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to find out about the issue, as some have been to over seven polling stations in their wards, still failing to trace their names – despite mobile verification ahead of the elections,” Dlamini said.
Despite their frustration, some voters vowed to keep searching for their names, as they want their issues answered through a ballot paper.
“This was reportedly noted even in rural wards, where intimidation of polling agents and voters was also noted by the opposition party representatives,” she added.
Zimbabwe elections off to rocky start as opposition CCC accuse Zanu-PF of sowing ‘chaos’ and ‘sabotage’
Zimbabweans are voting across the southern country to elect a new president, parliamentary and municipal representatives. The election got off to a late start in several polling stations countrywide due to logistical problems encountered by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission running the polls.
After a litigious and violent election campaign period, voters in the Zimbabwean capital Harare and other opposition strongholds throughout the country walk up to posters, ostensibly from the country’s main opposition Citizens Coalition for Change party led by Nelson Chamisa. On precast walls and other buildings, the posters discourage them from voting, claiming that the elections had been “rigged”. However, Chamisa’s party was quick to dispel the “fake” messages and took the posters down.
“This is a desperate attempt by the regime; they are panicking and they know that they cannot win in a free and fair election,” said CCC national spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere.
Voting stations not ready
At several polling stations, for example in Harare and the country’s second-largest city of Bulawayo which are regarded as opposition strongholds, voting only started after the scheduled 7 am because the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission had failed to provide enough materials, such as indelible voting ink and ballot papers.
“We were here at the polling station by 5 am so that we could be the first people to vote but when the polling was supposed to start we were told that the ballot papers and ink had not yet arrived but we eventually started voting an hour later,” said Mutsai Chiwanza of Chitungwiza, about 30 kilometres south of the capital.
An opposition CCC official in Masvingo, Desire Nyahunda, told Daily Maverick that they had, with the help of the police, successfully dispersed members of the ruling Zanu-PF party and Forever Associates of Zimbabwe, a shadowy group with links to the country’s spy network, the Central Intelligence Organisation, who had camped near polling stations, allegedly intimidating voters.
National police spokesman Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said he was yet to receive such reports from officers deployed in Masvingo.
“As the police, we are going to make sure that this election is as peaceful as possible. We are going to speedily investigate and deal with any reports that would have been brought to us, we are not going to tolerate any form of violence or conduct that would undermine the holding of peaceful elections,” said Nyathi.
Some voters like Chinhoyi-based Emmanuel Paradza said they could not find their names in the voters roll.
“Myself, my wife and four children could not find our names in the voters’ roll. We have voted in previous elections and it is surprising that we all can’t vote today,” said Paradza.
Rivals cast their votes
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who vowed to win resoundingly, cast his vote at Sherwood Primary School in Kwekwe, Midlands Province. His main rival, Nelson Chamisa also voted in Harare.
Mnangagwa told journalists after voting that he was going to win.
“If I think I am not going to take it then I will be foolish; everyone who contests is going to a race to win,” said Mnangagwa who also renewed his calls for peace during and after these elections. “Peace, peace, peace, during before and after; peace, peace, peace,” said Mnangagwa.
Mnangagwa said he was also encouraged by the huge numbers of youth who were coming out to vote in this election compared to previous polls.
“I think this time around there has been more awareness than in the past, I think we shall have a higher turnout this time around and besides we now have more than six million people registered as voters. Last time we had only about five million so there is one and a half million more and I think this time around there was quite (some) publicity and most of our people, even the younger generation are very interested to cast their vote because I have seen in the media that for the first time we want to show that we also have the rights and make our decisions which is very good,” added Mnangagwa.
Chamisa told reporters soon after casting his ballot in Kuwadzana suburb in Harare that he was “not happy” with the electoral process.
“We are not happy with the process so far. People have come out to vote but we have seen an attempt to sabotage the will of the people. We hear that in rural areas they are forcing people through the headmen and chiefs to vote in a particular manner,” said Chamisa.
Chamisa said that he was impressed by the voter turnout in today’s polls.
“The numbers of people who have come out to vote are a testimony that people are eager to exercise their right. But in Harare and Bulawayo where we have a strong support, we see this sabotage; people were supposed to have voted. We are going to write to ZEC over these issues. You can’t say there is peace when people’s rights are being trampled upon. We know this is meant to discourage the people from voting but people are determined to vote,” he added.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission says voting delays were caused by the late printing of ballot papers owing to numerous court applications preceding today’s polls. ZEC said all affected polling stations would remain open until voters cast their votes.
“The public is advised that all polling stations that opened late for reasons beyond the control of the presiding officer will remain open for a continuous period of at least 12 hours on polling day,” reads part of a statement issued by the electoral body.
Chamisa, who is facing 80-year-old Mnangagwa for the second time, having narrowly lost to him in a disputed poll in 2018, told his supporters during his election campaign trail that he would not accept any result that would declare Mnangagwa the winner — setting the stage for yet another contested outcome if Mnangagwa is to be re-elected.
Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa of the Citizens Coalition for Change, has claimed that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government is manipulating the electoral process after several irregularities were reported at polling stations in many parts of the country.
Hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans, if not millions, had not voted at the scheduled close of polling stations — 7pm on Wednesday, 23 August — after the body overseeing the elections, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), failed to provide voting materials on time in most parts of the country, resulting in electoral management officials extending the voting deadline.
More than 6.5 million people were registered to vote in the elections, according to the ZEC, but it could not be independently verified how many people had cast their ballots, as the electoral body was yet to make any tabulation of total votes cast at the close of voting on Wednesday.
The ZEC announced that it was extending the close of voting at all polling stations that were affected by its administrative bungling, which has put the country on course for yet another disputed poll after the main opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), raised fears of ballot-rigging.
Some would-be voters were still queuing to cast their ballots late into Wednesday night.
“Voting here in Harare South constituency started very late in the afternoon and we have been told that ballot papers are finished. We are determined to vote and we will stay put until we get a chance to vote,” said Clarence Mashambamuto, who lives in the populous Stoneridge suburb of Harare.
A potential voter in Marondera, Mashonaland East Province, Shelton Kumbawa, told Daily Maverick that he and many others returned home after being told that ballot papers were not available.
“We spent the whole day waiting for ballot papers so we decided to go back home. We can’t be waiting in the queue without any food so we decided to go to our houses. We will only return when we have information that the ballot papers have been distributed to our polling stations.”
“Exit political survey desks” were reportedly set up by the Zanu-PF-aligned Forever Associates Zimbabwe (FAZ), a shadowy group with links to the country’s spy network, the Central Intelligence Organisation. Details of voters who had cast their votes were allegedly being recorded at the desks, located outside several polling stations countrywide.
A video that circulated on social media showed the former Zanu-PF provincial chairperson for Mashonaland West, Temba Mliswa, who is contesting again as an independent parliamentary candidate, confronting a woman suspected to be a FAZ member who was compiling a list of people who had voted.
Efforts to get comment from the FAZ founder, retired Brigadier-General Walter Tapfumaneyi, were fruitless.
‘ZEC confirmed our fears’
Chamisa told a news conference on Wednesday night that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government was manipulating the people’s will.
The 45-year-old Chamisa said the electoral commission — working in cahoots with Zanu-PF and Mnangagwa — was pushing Zimbabwe into a crisis that would have catastrophic results.
“ZEC seem to have confirmed our fears that probably they would fail to pass the credibility test, the professionalism test and the constitutionality test. More importantly, a non-partisan test,” Chamisa said.
In some areas, the ballot papers had the names of contestants swapped, with the one representing the CCC appearing on the Zanu-PF slot, and vice versa.
Chamisa said the electoral body was disfranchising the electorate in Harare and Bulawayo as well as Manicaland Province, where he said his party commanded a huge following.
“That verdict is being contaminated, adulterated because the people have spoken, the people are clear. Across the country, people are clear that they want change. We can see that Zanu-PF is very desperate,” Chamisa said.
The elections got off to a late start at several polling stations countrywide because of logistical problems encountered by the ZEC, which claimed that its poor running of the polls was caused by the litigious nature of the run-up to the polls. The prelude to the election was also characterised by violence and the intimidation of opposition supporters.
Chamisa said he was confident of victory in the polls despite shenanigans by unidentified people who littered the streets, precast walls and other structures with flyers and posters discouraging Zimbabweans from voting.
“That is the desperation. Zanu-PF has run out of ideas but, thank God, Zimbabweans are determined to see change, all the antics of the devil will not prevail.”
ZEC chairperson Rodney Kiwa had a short response to Daily Maverick’s queries: “We are sorry for minor logistical challenges that we encountered. But everything is under control.”
He refused to answer further questions.
According to Zimbabwe’s laws, once voting commences, it has to continue for 12 hours uninterrupted. Given that most polling stations opened after 6pm in Harare and some rural areas, it means that voting will continue into August 24.
“This is a strategy being employed by Zanu-PF to bus people from rural areas who would have voted already to come and vote in the urban areas. It is analogue-rigging, a primitive manner of managing the elections. I see tactics of desperation, these tactics are done by people who are in trouble,” Chamisa said.
According to Charles Kwaramba, the presidential election agent for Chamisa, the irregularities are “astonishing”.
“Some voters couldn’t find their names [on the voters’ roll]. This is a shame,” Kwaramba said.
According to election agents, in Harare West, voting only started two hours before the scheduled closing time and presidential ballot papers had run out.
A repeat of 2018?
Mnangagwa, who vowed to win resoundingly, cast his vote at Sherwood Primary School in Kwekwe, Midlands Province. Chamisa voted in Harare.
This is the second election after the fall of the late Robert Mugabe, whose reign was characterised by vote-rigging. According to Chamisa, the current regime is worse than Mugabe’s in terms of violating people’s rights
Chamisa, who is facing 80-year-old Mnangagwa for the second time in an election, said he would not accept any result that does not put him in front of Mnangagwa.
He said if the electoral body announces Mnangagwa as the winner, it would have driven the country into chaos and Chamisa’s supporters will not allow a repeat of 2018 when the results were disputed after Chamisa narrowly lost. Protests erupted after the 2018 election and security forces killed six people.
The 2023 polls are being observed by at least 50 international observer missions, including from the Southern African Development Community, the African Union, the European Union and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa.
Locally, a number of civil society groups are also observing the elections. Among them is the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, which in its preliminary report said the prevailing situation added to the trust deficit the ZEC suffered after it made a series of controversial decisions that seemed to favour Zanu-PF.
“What is not adding up is that the ballot papers for presidential candidates and National Assembly candidates, where there were court challenges, were available at all polling stations, and the local authority ballot papers, where there were no court challenges, were the ones that remained unavailable, resulting in the delays,” the pro-democracy group said in a statement.
“In light of this, we strongly call on [the] ZEC to realise that the last of its integrity is at stake, and the only source of salvation is coming out to address the nation, acknowledge its failure, and come up with a clear plan to deal with the crisis it has created. Failure to do that, the election management body would have indicted itself as the major impediment to free, fair and credible elections in Zimbabwe.”
Zanu-PF spokesperson Christopher Mutsvangwa was unavailable for comment. However, Nick Mangwana, the permanent secretary in Zimbabwe’s information ministry, said authorities were doing all they could to ensure all registered voters were able to cast their ballots.
“Government will ensure that nobody is disenfranchised in this election. Measures are under way to address the situation at the few polling stations affected by logistical challenges,” Mangwana said.