BEFORE every general election in Zimbabwe, the issue of citizenship in relation to voter registration, voting and associated disenfranchisement surfaces all the time.
Zimbabwean citizens, mainly those with roots in Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique, have to be subjected to official harassment and humiliation on whether they can register to vote or not.
For years they have been technically barred from voting — disenfranchised in other words — ostensibly because they must first of all renounce entitlement to foreign citizenship by virtue of their parents, grandparents or ancestors having originated from the region.
This is scandalous. It is common cause that millions of Zimbabweans — probably up to a third of the population or five million — came from the region in search of greener pastures. That history is well-documented.
Just look at the political and business elite, football players and musicians in this country, so many of them who are prominent have roots in the region. Immigrants from the region contributed a lot to the cultural, economic and political development of this country. They helped shape and define this country as we know it today. Of course, some descendants of immigrants like former president Robert Mugabe have been a disaster for this country, but then again it has nothing to do with their origin. In Mugabe’s case, it was largely because of his leadership and policy failures, coupled with his regime’s repression, corruption and incompetence.
It must be only in Zimbabwe in the world where locals born and bred in a country — some even third generation citizens — are regarded as “aliens” — a very demeaning and xenophobic label. Such things should not be allowed in a reasonably civilised, democratic and progressive society.
But now thanks to Justice Nyaradzo Munangati-Manongwa and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights lawyer Denford Halimani, all those born in Zimbabwe and hold national identification cards endorsed “alien” have a right to be registered to vote in general elections, provided they have proof that one of their parents was born in Southern Africa.
Munangati-Manongwa this week ruled extempore in favour of an applicant Sarah Kachingwe and two political parties fighting for the rights of “aliens”.
Kachingwe is a Zimbabwean citizen by birth, but her ID card is endorsed “alien” because her deceased father originated from Malawi. Her mother is a Zimbabwean by birth, but nevertheless Kachingwe was turned away when she tried to register to vote in next year’s general elections. She was told to go the Registrar-General’s office for “regularisation” of her ID first.
However, Munangati-Manongwa came to the rescue, ruling: “It is hereby declared that: Any person born in Zimbabwe who is of or over eighteen years with an identification card endorsed ‘alien’ and a birth certificate showing that such person was born in Zimbabwe, and at least one of the parents of such person was born in Zimbabwe or from the Sadc region, with proof that he or she was ordinarily resident in Zimbabwe on the relevant publication date in 2013, is entitled to be registered . . . to vote without any impediment or additional requirement other than requirements relating to all (other) people.”
Even if Muckraker is not affected by this despicable official bigotry and xenophobia, this ruling is most welcome and helpful. Many Zimbabweans have all along been deprived of their right to citizenship and disenfranchised due to the irrational demand by the authorities that they must first renounce entitlement to foreign citizenship in order to retain Zimbabwean citizenship and enjoy associated rights. This was rank madness. The constitution is clear on this. Section 35 of the new constitution provides that there are three types or ways of getting citizenships in this country: by birth, descent and registration.
Away from the subjects of ‘aliens” — this term must be banned — President Emmerson Mnangagwa seems to be confident of winning next year’s general elections. How else can we explain his unexpected announcement last week at his inauguration that the country will proceed with elections next year as scheduled? This is a good thing, but it raises more questions than answers. Let us deal with only one aspect of this. Will Mnangagwa run free and fair elections, or he will resort to Mugabe’s tired and detested methods of winning by hook or by crook through violence, intimidation and rigging?
Lest we forget, while voting in the 2013 general elections was relatively calm and peaceful, the credibility of the polls was seriously compromised by a systematic effort to disenfranchise an estimated million voters. The polls were a charade; a fraud.
The voter registration process was systematically biased against urban voters. The voters’ roll of June 19 2013 — as provided by the Office of the Registrar General for instance — clearly showed that urban voters had been systematically denied the opportunity to register to vote. A total of 99,97% of rural voters were registered, while only 67,94% of urban voters were registered despite a larger number of those trying to register in urban areas.
Over 750 000 urban voters were missing on the voters’ roll compared to rural voters. In contravention of the law, the final voters’ roll was not made available to players in electronic format prior to election day. Thus there is no way to assess the final voters’ roll before polling day.
Urban voters were not just disenfranchised through the biased registration process. On election day, for example, 82% of urban polling stations turned many potential voters away as opposed to just 38% of polling stations in rural areas. These factors on their own fundamentally undermined the degree to which the results of the 2013 elections could be considered to reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people. If one added massive bias towards the ruling party in the state media, the campaign of intimidation in rural areas, lack of meaningful voter education, rushed electoral process and the harassment of civil society, this left the credibility of the elections severely compromised.
Mukonori, turncoats and Justice Chiweshe
Well, even in the middle of a serious historic process triggered by military intervention — euphemism for a coup — which led to Mugabe’s downfall, there were still some hilarious moments.
One of those emerged during an interview featuring Catholic cleric Father Fidelis Mukonori, the chief mediator between Mugabe and military commanders, with ZBC this week. Old habits die hard indeed. Apart from Rueben Barwe’s trademark interviews where the interviewee is basically asked one question and allowed to go on and on, even if waffling, Mukonori provided Muckraker some comic relief with his occasional gratuitous claims, which fitted the ZBC script of sunshine journalism.
Asked how Mugabe took the issue of being forced to resign, the respected cleric claimed the disgraced dictator was glowing — meaning healthy-looking and happy — when he signed his involuntary resignation letter. Of course, Mugabe claimed he resigned voluntarily but no one, not even his children, would believe that. How voluntary was it when he was under house arrest after the military barricaded him at his Borrowdale mansion? Voluntary and glowing when he signed the letter at gunpoint? Who will believe such a fictitious and facetious narrative?
If it was voluntary and he glowed when resigning, why did it have to take a coup for him to do that? Why did it have to take Zanu PF recalling or expelling him, or whatever, to sign? Indeed, why did it have to take impeachment proceedings for him to throw in the towel?
Anyway, don’t expect Barwe to ask such questions. It would have to be freezing in hell for him to begin to think like that and ask critical questions beyond his usual comfort zone of sycophantic journalism. When it comes to toadying or fawning reporting, no one beats Barwe; not even the quirky Judith Makwanya or some hired print journalists currently acting as PR officers or propagandists for certain politicians for a mere thirty pieces of silver!
But if you thought that was disgraceful, you should have followed how Zanu PF politicians who for decades have been backing Mugabe to the hilt and recently fighting against Mnangagwa dramatically changed in the past two weeks to support and bootlick the new president. Sydney Sekeramayi, Simon Khaya Moyo (he did a dramatic volte-face within 24 hours) and Mandi Chimene, among others — G40 political turncoats — come to mind. Only Jonathan Moyo remains publicly defiant. Others are quiet. In all this madness, we can’t ignore that lunatics have taken over the asylum in the judiciary. Justice George Chiweshe — Zimbabwe’s Judge President of all people — came up with a disgraceful ruling purportedly nullifying Mnangagwa’s recent firing by Mugabe as vice-president and another one seeking to sanitise the military intervention in the Zanu PF succession power struggle by giving it a veneer of legality and legitimacy. It is embarrassing to say the least to have such court orders in the first place. Such desperate efforts to give a façade of constitutionality, legality and legitimacy to the recent coup and events of the past three weeks tell us how rotten the judiciary has now become. Mnangagwa, for his own good to start with, must not allow such partisan, incompetent and damaging dispensation of justice. It is damaging to him as president and the country, let alone the judiciary and the judge involved.