Low voter registration signals distrust in electoral system and lack of faith in main political parties

As the year 2023 beckons - with an anticipation of fierce and potentially bruising electoral contestation between Zimbabwe's two main political rivals, ZANU PF and MDC Alliance - one would have thought that excitement amongst the electorate would have been at an all-time high, attracting an overflow of new voter registrations.

Tendai Ruben Mbofana

 

However, sadly it appears not to be the case.

In fact, elections will occur far earlier than 2023, since the country expects to hold long-awaited and long-overdue by-elections in early 2022 – to replace deceased members of parliament (MPs) and local government councillors, or those from the MDC Alliance who were controversially recalled by the supreme court-created MDC-T (led by Douglas Mwonzora).

Therefore, should the country not be immersed in some election fever and fervor?

Are we not to expect hordes of new voters – especially the youth – thronging registration sites in order to be added to the list of those with the power to determine who should run the affairs of our beloved Zimbabwe?

Yet, the latest figures released by ZEC (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) – in which they indicated that only a paltry 2,000 individuals registered to vote in the whole of 2021 – place a cold damper on everything.

Why are the numbers so low?

Of course, with everything else in life, there can never be one straightforward answer – otherwise, life would have been very simple.

The first thing to come to mind is the COVID-19 pandemic – which has been wrecking havoc and crippling the entire world, through severe lockdowns intended to control the virus – which did not spare Zimbabwe (I am sure much to the chagrin of defence minister Oppah Muchinguri Kashiri, who believed the virus was devine punishment on countries that had imposed targeted sanctions on our ruling elite).

These movement curtailments, and limitations (or, even complete shutdowns) on institutional operations, had the unenviable result of not only denying those who had just turned eighteen years (the country’s legal age of majority) to obtain the requisite identity documents, but also restricted access to voter registration centres for those willing and eligible to do so.

Furthermore, ZEC itself was roundly accused of not opening up sufficient voter registration centres in all parts (preferably, at ward level) of the country – particularly considering the tough restrictions on individuals’ mobility due to repeated lockdowns.

Yet, in spite of these crippling factors – which can be reasonably attributable to a marked decrease in voter registration – nonetheless, the pathetic figures cited by ZEC paint a far more disturbing picture of a deeper cause within our country.

Other countries as South Africa, Zambia, and Malawi conducted their local government, and presidential elections – in relatively free and fair atmospheres, with large numbers of voters showing a huge interest, and participating in their droves – regardless of similar COVID-19 restrictions.

As such, it would be disingenuous to merely attribute the dismal below par voter registration performance in our own Zimbabwe to COVID-19 and poor ZEC planning.

As a matter of fact, besides social media platforms – where else have people noticed a genuine excitement over impending elections, both in early 2022 (only a few months from now), and in 2023?

Indeed, on Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp one can easily get the erroneous feeling that the country was well and truly in election mode and mood – what with a marked increase of political party campaigns, nearly daily formation of new organizations, and of course the always trending Register to Vote hashtag.

However, on the ground the atmosphere is remarkably different – as surely, one would be forgiven for believing that there were no elections slated for the country in the near future.

Why the apparent apathy and disinterest?

What I am about to say may come as breaking news to those who have chosen to live their lives in “Twittersphere”, and divorced from the brutal realities that most of us encounter on a day to day basis.

A very significant portion of Zimbabwean society – more so, the youth – have lost all hope and confidence in the current political parties, and indeed, in the entire electoral process in the country.

For starters, the history of elections in Zimbabwe hardly inspires any confidence – as it is an open secret that they have been fraught with scandalous fraud and manipulation, characterized by accusations of blatant interference by the country’s security and intelligence forces, unfair playing and campaigning field (with the politicization of state media, and COVID-19 restrictions), as well as downright brutal violence against the main opposition MDC Alliance (as already witnessed over the past few months).

No one can deny that most people do not harbour any illusions that Zimbabwe is like Zambia – and that, as long as our security and intelligence forces are directly involved in our politics and voting processes, then no matter how many people vote for the opposition, the result will always be the same as it has been since 1980.

Additionally, Zimbabweans have already had a taste of the main opposition’s rule – especially, in urban areas, which they run – and, the outcome has not been good at all.

No matter the varied excuses proffered, urban life has gone from a dreaded nightmare, to a harrowing life in hell, under the twenty year reign of the opposition – with unacceptable levels of lack of accountability, and comatose (if not dead and buried) service delivery.

In South Africa, the reason why there are those willing to give the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) a chance to govern the whole country, is in the commendable and most enviable manner in which the party has run the Western Cape province, and its capital Cape Town (which has won numerous global awards for its exceptional governance).

Truth be told, what does our opposition have to show in order to convince the people of Zimbabwe that they have what it takes to rule this country?

No tap water, no street lights, poor refuse collection, unnavigable roads…you name it!

Therefore, when the choice for Zimbabweans at the polls is an opposition that can not even run a town – and, a ruling party that thrives on stealing both the country’s vast resources for its own leaders’ personal enrichment (at the expense of an impoverished population), and elections (which are rigged left, right, and centre) – what would surely motivate an individual to vote?

What have both main political parties in Zimbabwe done to inspire citizens that they can be trusted in either be given another berth to rule the country, or be elected to take over?

Unfortunately, they have brought nothing – except untold misery!

A significant portion of Zimbabweans are wise and politically mature enough to know that it is not only folly and ill-advised – but, also suicidal and downright moronic – to either vote out or vote in a particular party, merely for the sake of change, or being fed up with the status quo.

There is nothing more painful in life that making irrational and ill-considered decisions – mostly driven by pure desperation and emotions – only to regret later, as what may have appeared salvation in the distance, turned out to be just as terrible (if not worse) than what one was trying to flee from.

As far as I am concerned, the people of Zimbabwe – particularly those who are not hardcore overzealous political party supporters, but simply want a better life for themselves and their families – have lost all confidence in the current setup, and have no interest in elections.

It is truly most unfortunate that our political leaders would rather find comfort and solace in the few thousands of followers they have shouting their praises on social media, or those forced to attend their rallies – as opposed to listening to the real concerns of the millions on the ground, who can tell them one or two valuable things.

Zimbabweans are sick and tired of all these perennial daily struggles, and can not take the suffering any more.

We now need leaders with solutions – and not endless excuses as to why they can not deliver.

We need problem-solvers and doers – not, whiners and whingers.

All I can say to our politicians is – take your heads out of the social media cloud, or the stage-managed theatre of forced rallies, and have the courage to live in the real world, with real Zimbabweans.

Just move away from your bona fide staunch supporters – who have a troubling and damaging tendency to tell you what you want to hear – and, take time to hear the truth, no matter how uncomfortable and painful.

Only when one is mature enough to hear and know the truth, can the truth set you free!

© Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, author, and social commentator. Please feel free to contact him on WhatsApp/Call: +263715667700 / +263782283975, or Calls Only: +263788897936 / +263733399640, or email: [email protected]

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