By Shingirai Vambe.
Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Electoral Advisory Council’s (SEAC) is in the country, Zimbabwe, meeting with key stakeholders as the country draw close to this year’s general elections.
Chairperson, Judge Ticheme Dlamini, is leading the team to assess the political environment and Zimbabwe’s preparedness to hold free and fair elections.
Various stakeholders have since met with the SEAC team at a local hotel, in Harare and amongst the invited guests, the media, raised concern over the safety of media practitioners during election period and this has once again come under scrutiny following attacks during the 2022 by-elections which saw the deaths of one opposition supporter, Mboneni Ncube in Kwekwe.
Electoral bodies, political parties, ZANU PF and CCC the media, to mention just a few, have since met with the SADC SEAC team.
Friday Afternoon, Leader of the Citizen Coalition for Change, Nelson Chamisa told the Media after a closed door meeting with SADC that it was a breath taking moment and expecting the body to play its role in the coming elections.
“Finally we are with them, it’s a fulfilling position. Motivated that there is an ear to our issues regarding principles, we are not in agreement on the issues of the voters’ roll. We would want a credible voters’ roll in Zimbabwe, that must be made public available in analysable and searchable format so that we are able to audit, and satisfied that it is indeed a critical ingredient to the holding of a free, credible and fair election,” Chamisa said.
He said he doesn’t want Zimbabwe to remain in the vicious circle of disputed election of discredited outcome.
He told the Post On Sunday Newspaper that election must be credible, legitimate and democratic to avoid a disputed state and presidents as we have seen in the past elections.
“We made a humble view to SADC, we want a political agreement, a PACT before elections, by all the political players we so that we don’t dispute the process and the outcomes. We believe in African solution to African problems that’s why we continue to knock at SADC doors, we just want to end all these problems in our country, we are a night mare in the region and globally. A prisoner cannot set himself free and we need SADC” added Chamisa.
Thursday afternoon, issues raised during the meeting include members of the fourth estate who have been seen running for political offices, losing, then again going back into the news rooms, compromising the independence and credibility of reportage in an environment and period that require free, fair, honest and transparent reporting.
local journalist Mlondolozi Ndlovu said the engagement that has been created recently ahead of the polls by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) were commendable.
“Above all we (journalists) are supposed to expose electoral malpractice that happens from time to time. As far as the security environment in the context of the forthcoming elections the environment is better than what it was in the past. However we have had incidents where suspected ruling party thugs have assaulted journalists,” Ndlovu said.
Practitioners who attended the meeting told the Post On Sunday Newspaper that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) must not treat the media as a political party or politicians. This came at the backdrop of issues around the voters’ roll which to date has not been given to interested parties including members of the media who requested for the current total number of registered voters in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe’s elections have been marred with political violence since the country attained its independence in 1980, 43 years down the line, political observers have predicted a recurrence in this year’s polls.
Last year journalists were reportedly assaulted while covering opposition rallies by suspected ruling party youths and other have been barred from covering state programs when coming from independent or private media.
A female journalist, Ruvimbo Muchenje, was assaulted by security details of opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) in Chinhoyi further raising safety concerns while Toneo Rutsito and his team were assaulted by the ruling ZANU PF thugs in Gokwe and lost their gadget during the fiasco.
The response by the ZRP of having no manpower resulting in barring the opposition CCC to hold its campaign was and still is a cause for concern for the media in Zimbabwe during the campaigning period and safety will not be guaranteed in the absence of the police to maintain peace and order.
Dlamini said his delegation will hold crucial engagements with ZEC and civic society organisations to assess if Zimbabwe’s political environment is favourable for elections.
“We are here as members of SEAC and our key responsibility is to advise SADC on electoral issues and to also see how democracy can be enhanced. During the pre-election assessment mission what we seek to achieve is to assess and find out if the security and political situation in the country is conducive for the holding of free, fair, transparent and peaceful elections and to be held in accordance with SADC principle and guidelines governing democratic elections,” said Dlamini.
Election Resource Centre (ERC) has since issued a statement in response to the statement by ZEC Chairperson, Priscilla Chigumba on April 5 2023 that the Commission was unable to publish the voters’ roll as it was its responsibility to protect the data of voters in accordance with the Data Protection Act.
Having met with SEAC, ERC directly argue with ZEC that Section 21 (3) of the electoral Act legally authorises the Commission to within a reasonable period of time provide any person who request it, and who pays the prescribed fee a copy of any voters’ roll either in printed or in electronic form as the person may request.
“ZEC is legally obligated by the Electoral Act read in line with the Data Protection Act to avail the voters’ roll data, especially as it constitutes substantial public interest as the roll is necessary for electoral participation and the realisation of political rights as envisaged by the constitution”.
“The continued denial of the voters’ roll especially to persons with a legitimate interest in the voters’ roll and free and fair elections, such as political parties, candidates and CSOs under the guise of data protection is unlawful and detrimental to the credibility of the 2023 harmonised elections,” added ERC.
However, it is believed that ZEC, has already issued the Ruling ZANU PF Party with the new voters’ roll after citizens received text messages said to be coming from Emmerson Mnangagwa, leader of the ruling ZANU PF party, soliciting for votes in the coming elections, using the new delimitated boundaries of the contested report.
ERC told the Post On Sunday that contrary to the figures by ZEC in Parliament, since 2018, it will not sit well that 5 years down the line number of registered voters’ even after deletion of the deceased, is still less than 6 million. “We will look in to the figures,” said Solomon Bobosibunu Masaka.