Despite clear and binding international agreements to the contrary, evidence now available shows that President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF is again planning to steal the next elections with the help of a grossly rigged electoral register.
After the 2008 elections, in which the opposition Movement for Democratic Change won a parliamentary majority but in which the MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, was forced to withdraw from the ensuing presidential election due to the overwhelming level of government-orchestrated violence, Zimbabwe's neighbours in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) stitched together a deal, the Global Political Agreement, which saw Mugabe remain as President with Tsvangirai as Prime Minister and a commitment to a new constitution with free and fair elections.
In terms of the GPA the constitution has to be passed by a popular referendum before elections can take place, probably around June 2012. But, of course, the new register is thus fundamental to both the referendum and the elections - for parliament and President.
In all previous elections the electoral register has been a major source of controversy. Drawn up by Tobaiwa Mudede, an outspoken Zanu-PF supporter, it was notoriously full of dead and fictional voters - who always voted Zanu-PF. Mudede regarded the register as a state secret and defied all court orders to make it available to the press or opposition parties.
When an NGO did finally procure a copy in 2002, it was found to contain at least twice as many voters as was plausible. Despite that, the supposedly independent Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) - in fact stuffed with government supporters - never upheld any complaints about the register.
With this unhappy history in mind SADC insisted that a wholly new voters' roll be drawn up and that all the personnel of ZEC be changed to allow a properly independent commission to be constituted. These changes were then confirmed by the Zimbabwean parliament.
In fact all this has been illegally set aside by ZEC. Mudede, though rising 70 and way past retirement age, has been retained as Registrar-General - clearly for political reasons. Similarly, several of the old ZEC members have, despite the stipulations of the GPA, been re-appointed to the new ZEC.
Under their guidance the ZEC has agreed not to do as SADC and Parliament determined but simply to keep the old, discredited register and add new names to it. The results are grotesque. Although the new roll is a closely guarded secret I have managed to gain sight of a copy.
The first notable fact is that an impossible 5,727,902 voters were registered on the 2008 register. Given that over four million Zimbabweans have fled Mugabe's rule, most analysts now believe Zimbabwe's population has fallen to between 8 and 10 million. Even if the 10 million figure is preferred, 60% of the population is aged under 18 and all previous surveys show a maximum 80% voter registration rate.
So the maximum possible number on the voters' roll should be 3.2m. So the 2008 register had at least 2.5m too many voters on it - more than enough to settle any election. Thus the (illegal) decision to retain the old 2008 register as a baseline has fatal consequences.
However, Mudede has now added another 366,550 new voters - a remarkable figure given that Zimbabwe's population is shrinking. Moreover, these are not all young voters coming of age. Although Zimbabwe's average life expectancy is now down to 44.8 years, an astonishing 33,206 of these new voters are aged 50-70, and another 16,649 are over 70.
Even more remarkable, 1418 are over 100, although everyone knows that the famines and hardships of recent years have carried off most of the old. Oddly, although it is legally required for all voters to give a valid address, quite a few names on the roll lack one. There are also hundreds of under-age persons registered, some of them as young as two or three years old.
It is also striking that these anomalies are by no means evenly distributed across all constituencies. Instead they are concentrated in seats where Zanu-PF feels under threat. Thus in Mount Darwin East one finds 118 voters aged over 100, the majority of them all born on the same day, 1 January 1901. Another nine 96 year olds are all born on 1 January 1905 and 25 further 91 year olds are all born on 1 January 1910.
Once one looks at the new register as a whole one finds there are no less than 16,828 voters all born on the same day, 1 January 1901. Such a concentration of 110 year olds with identical birthdays is no doubt a planetary record. Even more remarkable, though, no less than 1101 of these are concentrated in Mugabe's birthplace, Zvimba, which, no doubt, will help to guarantee a pleasing election result there.
All told the register includes 41,119 voters aged over 100. Yet in Britain, with a population more than five times the size of Zimbabwe and with an enormously higher life expectancy, there are only 10,000 people aged over 100. It seems clear that Mudede has only arrived at such absurd figures by systematically failing to remove dead voters from the rolls.
What is clear enough of Zimbabwe's 41,119 centenarians is that if they ever really existed they doubtless died long ago. It is also interesting to note that 18,525 voters are listed merely as being attached to "housing co-operative" associations without any proper address. Such phantom voters vote early and often in Zimbabwe. There is a notable concentration of such address-less voters in Harare North which helped Zanu-PF evict the MDC MP Trudy Stevenson from the seat in 2008.
I will publish a full report on the voters' roll under the auspices of the South African Institute of Race Relations, together with supporting documentation. President Zuma has acted well on this matter so far, insisting that Mugabe be held to the terms of the Global Political Agreement (GPA), to Mugabe's vocal irritation.
However, this new data on the voters' roll makes it crystal clear that Mugabe intends to subvert the GPA and cheat his way back to power again. If President Zuma and his SADC colleagues are serious, they can prevent this. The agreement to free and fair elections with a new voters' roll was part of the Global Political Agreement which Mugabe personally signed. SADC is due to meet to consider the situation on May 20 in Windhoek, Namibia.
This article first appeared in Business Day
Click here to sign up to receive our free daily headline email newsletter