What the Constitution says about elections – 7

In this new series Magari Mandebvu explains the constitutional provisions that govern the holding of elections in Zimbabwe. This supreme law of the land details exactly how the government of they must seek a mandate to govern from the people. We all need to be aware of just how this is supposed to done.


160 Number of constituencies and wards (not included in clauses that come into effect on publication of this Constitution: ie the numbers could be changed by a simple Act of Parliament)

(1) For the purpose of electing Members of Parliament, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission must divide Zimbabwe into two hundred and ten constituencies.

(2)   For the purpose of elections to local authorities, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission must divide local authority areas into wards according to the number of members to be elected to the local authorities concerned.

This is not among the clauses that require a referendum to modify them, because there is no accepted world-wide or Africa-wide rule on how many voters there should be in any constituency, as long as the principle is maintained that there must be an equal number as far as possible, so that may mean within 5% or 10% if the mostly sensible rules that follow guide the operation.

But a very important point to notice is that adjusting for any movements of population or unequal rates of increase between districts and wards it is important to have recent accurate census figures.

It is also worth noting that this section did not come into force immediately in 2013. In 2018 there were no recent population figures to guide the delimitation, so 2023 is the first year in which this section can be applied in delineating constituencies.

(3)   The boundaries of constituencies must be such that, so far as possible, at the time of delimitation equal numbers of voters are registered in each constituency within Zimbabwe.

(4)   The boundaries of wards must be such that, so far as possible, at the time of delimitation equal numbers of voters are registered in each ward of the local authority concerned.

A census is held every ten years and an election is due for next year. If everything is arranged carefully, with the census early in 2022 and the election late enough in 2023 for the Census Bureau to have processed all the results and published breakdowns of the figures for every province, district and local government ward, there would just be time to do a well-prepared delimitation. But people are already complaining that we see little evidence of these preparations. We risk holding an election with constituency and ward boundaries that are 10 years out of date.

We are all aware that over the past 20 years, there have been consistent pressures, by Murambatsvina and its little brothers and sisters, to drive poorer people out of the cities, where it is more difficult to manipulate voting, to rural areas, where most traditional leaders keep a tight control on how their people vote and often use tricks such as making everyone declare themselves illiterate to ensure the election results agree with what their bosses want. New arrivals in such rural areas, and especially long-lost sons and daughters, are closely watched.

And so we have areas like Harare’s Hopley and Caledonia farms, squatter camps in areas they claim are still rural. People living there may find themselves denied a vote because they do not fit in either rural or urban area. The result is that censuses record these people as having moved from town, and the resulting figures are used to reduce the number of urban constituencies. At this rate, Zimbabwe will appear soon in the Guinness Book of records as the country with the highest rate of urban to rural migration, a record long held by Cambodia under Pol Pot.

The rules for delimitation continue:

(5)                      In delimiting-

(a)       the boundaries of wards, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission must ensure that no ward is divided between two or more local authority areas;

(b)       the boundaries of constituencies, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission must ensure that no ward is divided between two or more constituencies.

As far as I know, these  regulations are observed. This is just a matter of administrative convenience, which leaves less room for confusion, and that is good.

(6) In dividing Zimbabwe into wards and constituencies, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission must, in respect of any area, give due consideration to-

(a) its physical features;

(b)  the means of communication within the area,

(c)  the geographical distribution of registered voters;

(d)  any community of interest as between registered voters;

(e) in the case of any delimitation after the first delimitation, existing electoral boundaries, and;

(f) its population;

Of these points, (a) (b) & (c) are designed to make it easy for voters to get to the polling stations. For example, a rural ward should not be divided by a river that can flood in the rainy season or by sizeable hills, which would make walking to the polls difficult for old or disabled people. If any ward covers a big enough area, it would make sense to  choose to include villages that are joined by a bus route.

Point (d) doesn’t seem to have been observed strictly in the last election; wards of the same suburb were attached to very different constituencies, producing a mix of urban and rural or of areas occupied by people of different classes. This makes ‘giving consideration to existing electoral boundaries’ likely to clash with point (d)

Point (f) reminds us that it is important for wards and constituencies to all have more or less equal population, so that people have equal voice in Parliament. The text continues by being more specific about this:

and to give effect to these considerations, the Commission may depart from the requirement that constituencies and wards must have equal numbers of voters, but no constituency or ward of the local authority concerned may have more than twenty per cent more or fewer registered voters than the other such constituencies or wards.

Note the wording of this clause carefully. The variance in population of constituencies and wards must not exceed 20%, and should only approach this figure if necessary to observe the other provisions of this section.

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