Can they really afford to throw away 3 or 4 million votes?

Cathy Buckle on how Zimbabwe's citizenship laws still disenfranchise millions

Dear Family and Friends,

Zimbabweans are so exhausted with the year long struggle to get money, their own money out of the banks, that almost everything else seems of little consequence. How can you worry about elections when you have to spend half of every day outside the door of the bank in order to withdraw your own money? How can you even think about the voters roll when all the bank allows you to withdraw is twenty dollars and it’s all in 25 cent Bond coins? Sometimes it even seems as if the year long shortage of cash is deliberately not being addressed or resolved by our government so that we do exactly what we’re doing and spend every day worrying about cash and don’t follow or even care about events of critical national importance.

 There was a by-election in Chiwundura last weekend. Two election watchdog organizations, the ERC and ZESN said they had found massive irregularities. These included: 863 people registered more than once and appearing at different polling stations; 724 voters with similar first names, surnames, gender and date of birth but with different ID numbers and at different polling stations; 132 voters with ID numbers that are invalid; 218 voters with ID numbers with a suffix that doesn’t conform to the National Registration Act. The executive director of the ERC described the “worst case scenario” where one person with exactly the same ID number and personal details was found on the roll at three different polling stations.

The head of the government’s Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), Justice Rita Makarau said she “welcomed this sort of engagement” and then said it was: “important that we highlight the fact that in that part of the country there can be more than two Rosemary Moyos living in different parts of Gweru and I have been reassured that this is the case.” Mrs Makarau may be reassured but I don’t think we are as we wonder how many polling stations we are each registered at, how we will know, and if our dead relations are still on voters rolls numerous different polling stations.

In a press interview last week Mrs Makarau said that people with ALIEN on their ID cards: “Must regularize their identification particulars to show they are Zimbabwean citizens.”

“Regularize” an absurd word for a so far impossible achievement for multiple thousands of born and resident Zimbabweans cursed with the word ALIEN on their ID cards. I am one of them who, because my parents were not born in Zimbabwe, am classified as an ALIEN. Zimbabwe’s new Constitution of 2013 says that if you are born in Zimbabwe you are automatically a citizen but the legislation has not been changed to reflect the provision of the Constitution.

As I have done, you can arm yourself with every conceivable document that proves you are a born and resident Zimbabwean and try and “regularize” your ID to reflect that you are a citizen but it means nothing when you stand in front of officials at run down registration offices.

At my local Parliamentary Constituency office a deep gully adorns the road outside and a rusty, barely legible signboard mostly obscured by the branches of an overhanging tree, proclaims that this is the “Parliamentary Constituency Information Centre.” This is where you go to register births and deaths, get national Identity Documents and register to vote. It’s only a year until elections In Zimbabwe and the new Constitution guarantees my citizenship by birth and also allows me to have dual citizenship but officials in the office say they have not received instruction on this matter and direct me to Makombe building in Harare.

It’s a 180 kilometre round trip to Makombe Building, the Harare headquarters of the Ministry of Local Government. Navigating the hundreds of people, rabbit warren of narrow corridors and dirty doorways I finally find the right place, the right office and the right queue. I get to the front and despite not being greeted or acknowledged, I launch into proving I am who I say I am. As soon as the words ALIEN, New Constitution and Dual Citizenship are out of my mouth the woman stops looking at my documents and I can see the encounter is about to come to an end. “We have not been informed about the new constitution and dual citizenship” she says. This despite the fact that this is the country’s main Citizenship office and the new Constitution was adopted four years ago, in 2013. “The legislation has not been changed,” the official says.

So, Justice Rita Makaru, in response to your instruction that we “regularize” our Identity documents: We are trying but failing.

There are multiple thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of resident Zimbabweans like me who were disenfranchised after being declared ALIENS if their parents were born outside the country. There are an estimated three to four million Zimbabweans living in the Diapsora who are now ALIENS because they have taken on foreign passports to be able to live and work abroad. They too will be denied their right to vote in the 2018 election if citizenship status and dual citizenship laws are not changed and changed very soon.

So many people could be speaking out, demanding their birth right, demanding that the laws be changed in order to be aligned with Zimbabwe’s new Constitution. Little voices like mine are getting lost, going unheard, while the opposition giants fight for status, positions and power instead of fighting for the rights of the very people who would be voting for them. They will lose our votes because we will not be entitled to vote. Can they really afford to throw away 3 or 4 million votes?

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy 21st July 2017.

Copyright © Cathy Buckle. www.cathybuckle.com