Zimbabwe’s chaotic polls: People with disability given raw deal

Regina Pasipanodya

As early as 4 am on August 23, multitudes of people were already standing in long queues at different polling stations in Harare and Bulawayo waiting to cast their votes but their eagerness turned into a nightmare as they were forced to wait more hours for local government election ballot papers.

In some cases, such as Warren Park, Westlea and Haig Park in Harare, voters waited more than 12 hours before polling stations opened. For example in Warren Park, polling stations opened at 8.30pm, one hour 30 minutes after their scheduled closure.  

This meant that voting took place by night, in many constituencies in Harare and Bulawayo, considered to be the opposition strongholds. Many people failed to vote as a result.

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This was the first time in the history of Zimbabwe that polling stations were opened this late.

According to the Commonwealth observer interim report presented by the Chair Ambassador Amina Mohamed the late start of voting in some areas could have had an impact on voters, with some of them appearing to be agitated.

This unfortunate experience did not spare people with disabilities.

Elizabeth Mushowe (39), who is blind and a registered voter from Kambuzuma Constituency, failed to cast her voter due to this delay.

“I had asked someone to become my aid at the polling station, but when we arrived at Kurai 1 Polling Station around 9 am the ballot for the local governance was not yet there,” said Mushowe.

After waiting for three hours, without the ballot papers in sight, she decided to go back home to eat.

“I went back home with the anticipation that I would get something to eat and come back to cast my vote. Around 2pm when I asked other people if the process had started they said there was still nothing,” she said.

For safety reasons, Mushowe did not go back to the polling station. She considered it unsafe to walk at night because she cannot see.

Ironically, during the pre-election period, ZEC had assured the electorate, media and election observers and other stakeholders that it was ready for the elections.

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Deputy Chairperson and Spokesperson of ZEC Commissioner Ambassador Rodney Kiwa, said the Commission would accommodate every person during the polls, including those with disabilities.

However, most political analysts and observers outlined that whole electoral process had a lot of shortcomings that had implications on the right of all people – including the minority groups – to exercise their right to vote.

Observer Missions reports

According to the SADC Electoral Observation Mission (SEOM), ZEC was not fully prepared to conduct this year’s elections, which turned out to be chaotic.

Speaking at a press conference on August 24, the SADC SEOM chair, Nevers Mumba said when the commission enquired with ZEC about its preparedness regarding the 23 August Election, the Commission confirmed that everything was ready,

 “As the commission we noted that 64% of the voting stations observed opened on time, 36% did not open on time for the 07:00am stipulated opening time. Some polling stations opened more than 12 hours after the stipulated time. The reason provided by ZEC for this unprecedented development was the unavailability of ballot papers, particularly for the local authority elections, and also due to previous litigation,” Mumba said.

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“Due to the delays, some voters left without casting their votes, while others opted to remain in the lengthy queues throughout the day and night.”

The SADC mission highlighted that ZEC failed to comply with the Electoral Act and the provisions of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, which emphasise that resources should be available for citizens to exercise their rights to vote.

In terms of those that had disabilities, 8% of the polling stations observed were not accessible to voters living with disabilities. At half of the polling stations (50%), voters living with disabilities, the elderly, and pregnant women were not given priority to vote.

This unfortunate situation was also experienced during the Disability elections for the senators.

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After traveling from different parts of the country for the Senatorial Disability election, most PWDs stayed up as late as 3 am at the Harare International Conference Centre as they did not have a place to sleep.

In an interview, Joseph Moyo (34) from Nkayi, who is wheelchair bound described the election process as painful.

“I travelled to Harare with an evening bus and got to Harare in the morning and found myself in a very disturbing and painful situation,” said Moyo.

When he got to HICC, there was no clear communication about where and when they were supposed to check in for the accommodation from the Commission and other facilitators of the disability election.

“We had to stay outside, with no food, the accreditation process stated late in the afternoon and it was not friendly to people with disabilities,” he said.

An observer and activist for disability rights condemned the election process for the Senators for Disability Constituency as a disgrace and a breach of democracy and human rights.

Masimba Kuchera, a disability election observer, said the entire accreditation procedure was a disgrace. There were significant inconsistencies and defects, as many people could not locate their names on the voters’ list, yet they might appear on a list for accommodation or something similar or vice versa.

 “How is that possible?” Kuchera questioned.

PWDs had to wait in lengthy queues and due to a variety factors, some of them were even turned away or refused the chance to cast a ballot by election officials.

A research conducted by She Corresponds Africa revealed that isolation of minority groups begins at political party structures.

Disability representation in political parties

However, Director for Information and Publicity for Zanu PF Farai Muroiwa Marapira said President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has assured people living with disabilities that they will be prioritised in all government programmes. He said their voice will also be heard in all decision-making bodies.

“In 2021, he launched the National Disability Expo which sought to address the marginalisation and discrimination of persons with disabilities,” said Marapira.

“In the party Zanu PF, the President appointed a representative of people living with disabilities who is the late National Hero, Cde Malinga who passed on this week.”

The government recently introduced the Parliamentary Disability Caucus which will be the voice of Persons with Disabilities in the formulation of laws.  The government also made provisions for representation in both the Senate and House of Assembly.

She Corresponds Africa reached out to the Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T), United Zimbabwe Alliance (UZA) and Citizens for Coalition Change (CCC) to get an understanding on their parties’ policies on minority groups such as PWDs.

UZA President, Elisabeth Valerio said: “I’ll send a note. But certainly we must ensure equal access to opportunity for all citizens including citizens with disabilities”.

CCC Spokesperson Promise Mkwananzi just said “hi” and never gave a comment.

MDC-T Director of Information and Publicity, Chengetai Guta said I will send a comment  in five minutes and did not take up any calls after that.

However, through this legislation only two people in the House of Senate represent PWDs.

Disability representation in the Parliament

In Senate, which is an 80-member Upper House of the Zimbabwean Parliament, people with disabilities have two representatives. Sixty of the senators are chosen via proportional representation from 10 provinces. Eighteen seats are reserved for the council of Chiefs.

In an interview during the polls, Senator Anna Shiri, raised concerns about the limited number of people with disabilities, who are eligible to cast their votes for senators.

“This representation is insufficient, and I believe that our electoral law should be changed to increase our representation in the Senate. I feel that it is important that people with disabilities, who are above 18, should be registered and permitted to cast a vote for their representation,” said Shiri.

According to the Statutory Instrument 173 of 2022 of the Electoral Act, an association or institution for PWDs must nominate four and two delegates to the Electoral College, respectively.

This year only 92 associations and 19 institutions paricipated in the elections.

Nine candidates were running for the Senate Disability Constituency post. For the male senator, Moyo Mutandazo received 11 votes, Zhou Tapfuma also received 11 votes, Taurai Kadzviti received 98 votes, and Ishmael Zhou received 128 votes.

Mutokoti Vengai received 5 votes, Gwanyanya Lilian got 8 votes, Manyawi Nasper (47), Maunganidze Mercy (64), and Anna Shiri received 128 votes, in the race for the female senate seat.

Zhou and Shiri were therefore elected.

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