Like bees whose hive has been opened unceremoniously, large crowds of about 400 people buzzed into the polling station, shouting “A, B, C, D, where is it!”. For a moment I thought something had happened and they were running away from it.
At 7:00 a.m. the doors of the polling station opened, and people shrugged each other’s shoulders to be the first to cast their vote. I was a local observer in the 30 July 2018 Harmonised Elections, assigned by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association in partnership with ActionAid Zimbabwe. As such, I participated in the election processes to ensure its transparency and adherence to the Zimbabwean Law.
I arrived at 6.30 a.m. at Kuwadzana 3 Primary School polling station in Ward 37 in Kuwadzana East Constituency, Harare where I was observing and voting from there. The polling stations or rooms at Kuwadzana 3 Primary School were marked alphabetically from A to G where people were allocated polling rooms as per the first letters of their surnames. The first person to cast her vote at 7:04a.m. was a woman. I felt so proud of her and she got me thinking that women, whose population is 52% in Zimbabwe can play such a critical role in shaping the destiny of their country. She beat all other women and strong men, to be the first to vote.
Among the women who were queueing was my 60-year-old mother who also cast her vote at one of the polling stations I was observing. I asked her why her vote was important. “I want my children to have good jobs and pay school fees for my grandchildren,” she said. In Zimbabwe, education is not free, despite the 2013 Constitution containing an expanded bill of rights which includes the right to education for all children in Zimbabwe.
Whereas voting was generally peaceful, there was confusion caused by: the alphabetisation of the polling rooms; limited ushers to direct the voters to the correct voting rooms and; peoples’ names transferred from their registered polling stations to others. Some people felt disenfranchised as they spent long hours in the wrong queue or at stations, only to be told to join a fresh queue or go to another polling station which could be as far as 2km away.
Some people were turned away because they were on an exclusion list - meaning their identity documents were invalid. At Kuwadzana 2 Primary School, 42 out of an estimated 6,300 people registered to vote were on the exclusion list. As someone working for ActionAid whose focus is to work with excluded people and those experiencing social injustice, I am challenging the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) to review this policy by ensuring that those on the exclusion list are informed of their situation prior to the voting day.
Interestingly, some young men accused women of “borrowing” babies to be prioritised in the queue. At a polling station in Crowborough Phase 3, one woman was even asked by some young men to breastfeed the child to prove she was the real mother’. I thought this was an appalling accusation.
Adding to that, the lack of water and sanitary facilities at polling stations was a cause for concern. At Crowborough open space polling stations, there were no toilets. Polling officers and observers who stayed overnight for the vote counting relieved them in the open at night. In the afternoon, nearby houses were swamped with polling officers requesting to use the toilet. What a pathetic situation!
The most laborious process was filling V11 forms which provided a summary of the vote outcome in each polling station. Having 23 political parties vying for the Presidential seat meant filling in 23 copies of the V11 forms given to each political party agent, plus other copies for display outside the polling station and for ZEC files. The same forms were completed for parliamentary and local government elections given that these were harmonised elections. I participated in the vote counting that took more than 12 hours - from 8:00 p.m. on 30 July to 9:30 a.m. the following day enduring a chilly night in a camping tent. This was followed by the manual process where polling officers completed the V11 forms to capture the numbers of votes cast and the results. Why were the V11 forms manually done when the voter registration system was digitalised? One would ask!
While there will be debates and talk shows and perhaps some rich investigative reporting on what should have been, but here is what I suggest for now: For future elections: digitalise some of the processes such as the exclusion lists to ensure that all citizens exercise their right to vote and; the V11 forms should go digital to promote transparent, fast and efficient voting processes. Above all, ensure that the elections should not be an “event” but a “process’ that challenges the power holders to play a servant-leader role to the people, promote social justice, ensure gender equality and work towards poverty eradication!