The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) is to blame for the low registration numbers as it has failed to carry out its mandate of encouraging eligible citizens to register to vote, activists have said. According to Section 239 of Zimbabwe’s constitution, ZEC is mandated to prepare, conduct and supervise elections; register voters and conduct and supervise voter education, among other functions. But activists argue that ZEC has failed on its mandate judging by the low number of registered voters.
Speaking during an online election debate series on Voter Registration Activities and Objectives hosted by CITE on Twitter Spaces, Wednesday, an online activist, Andy Kodza, accused ZEC of failing young people. “In a normal system, one of the most important values for everyone who reaches 18 years is the issue to deal with politics and voting that gives you the opportunity to select who can represent you for five years. But looking at our situation as Zimbabwe, a lot of people have lost hope and this lack of hope within our system has motivated a lot of people to question why they should vote,” he said.
Kodza noted for people to regain confidence in the electoral processes, ZEC should prioritise voter education. “This is not a role for political parties only but from the main player, in this case – ZEC. It’s ZEC’s responsibility to educate people on the importance of voting, to provide a level platform where political parties come together, not wearing party regalia but advertising voter education, putting information on social platforms, radio and newspapers,” he said.
But the activist lamented that voter registration has been made cumbersome by ZEC. “You find a lot of stumbling blocks just for one to be a registered voter. This has made it a very difficult and very tiresome process to vote in Zimbabwe. Some of these things happening on voter education and registration is ZEC’s fault,” Kodza said.
“ZEC has to pull up its socks and is the biggest problem because I believe everyone knows the values of voting but ZEC is not pulling up their socks.” Women’s Institute for Leadership Development (WILD), Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, Namatai Munyuru, concurred voter education should precede every election.
“So that all voters are aware of their rights, political processes and importance of registering to vote in their constituencies. ZEC has signalled some constituencies that are at risk of delimitation, these are Magwegwe, Njube, Pelandaba and Entumbane and Bulawayo East, which we have used as our baseline for the February Biometric Voters Roll registration blitz,” she said.
“We have been carrying out community outreach on voter registration under Ekhaya Vote 2023 Campaign and the turnout started very low as we initiated this in the early days of February. With time, numbers started slightly increasing.”
Munyuru noted that reasons for low registration included lack of documentation, lack of proof of residence, uncertified documentation and a portion of people who did not see the necessity to vote.
“Some say they don’t see change. Registration centres are still far from areas of registration despite being mobile. The greater population had no idea how or why to register to vote in the first place. Some assumed they could walk up to the polling station and automatically vote,” she said, adding campaigns were resorting to incentivising young people to register to vote.
However, Munyuru highlighted it was unsustainable to incentivise in the long term.
“I also feel it’s unsustainable to be using money to urge people to vote. We cannot give free tickets to shows and encourage them to register to vote. Incentivising is not sustainable in the long run. If we are to incentivise let’s do so with information, not money that’s my take,” she said.
Habakkuk Trust Programme Officer, Dumisani Ncube, said their organisation has done initiatives towards voter education using community structures and community advocacy teams particularly in rural Matabeleland North.
“We mobilised communities towards voter registration centres in areas where there are by-elections quite active and in other areas where it is a bit dormant. We continue using various social media platforms and community advocacy WhatsApp groups scattered in Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South and Bulawayo to educate on registration vis a vies delimitation,” he said.