by Justice Benjamin Paradza, Exiled Judge of the High Court of Zimbabwe
President of ZUNDE
31 October 2016
Yes, that is correct, electoral reform starts with us — you and me — and that is a fact. In addition, voter registration cannot be stopped because the government says it has no money. While the government and ZANU PF have the obligation to level the playing field, they are not the determining factor. We are!
Since inception, ZUNDE has had a consistent view and message on the need for coalition. Our message has reached every corner of the political arena. Now, we turn our focus to a critical aspect of the electoral process: voter registration.
We have allowed ourselves to be crippled by this idea that electoral reform must come from the
government or ZEC. We have tried to push them but the answer we got from loonies like Jonathan Moyo is that ZANU PF will not reform itself out of power. What a painful thing to tell a suffering, dying nation! But it is true. They will not do that so what do we do? We are the people, we are Zimbabwe, and we have the power to do anything including getting rid of ZANU PF from power, if only we do it right.
For the 2018 election, the right thing to do is to ensure that we turn out in full force to the polls and vote. And to vote, everyone must register and ensure that their names are on the voters’ roll. We have less than two years to do this and time is not on our side.
While it is honourable for Pastor Evan Mawarire and other activists to be leading running battles with the police protesting against corruption, injustice and poverty, we should also be having running battles with ZEC demanding that we be registered as voters. Come on Tajamuka!! Jamukai in the right direction.
#This Flag, you took away all our fear. We are no longer afraid! Let us all go to the relevant offices and demand to register as voters. The constitution guarantees our right to register and to vote. ZEC must not hide behind costs. If they don’t have the resources to register voters, then they don’t have the capacity to run any election, simple.
Let us overwhelm their rigging machinery by registering and turning out to vote in large numbers. We cautiously applaud the people of Norton and Temba Mliswa for doing just that — now we must follow their example.
In the past, only a paltry three million of us have turned out to the polls. Why not seven or ten million? Where are the rest of the people and why do they not go to vote? Voter apathy is a big enemy of electoral reform. Opposition parties must unite in campaigning for Zimbabweans to register and vote. MDC, you are the biggest; why are you not shouting loudest? NERA has been your fight from the word go, so what are you doing to get people to register and vote?
Of course, ZANU PF uses different methods to rig elections but ballot box stuffing will become a nightmare for them if voters turn out in large numbers. For example, let us say an electorate has 10 000 voters and 9 000 turn out to cast their vote of which 6 000 vote for one opposition candidate. ZANU PF can only stuff ballot boxes with 1 000 but they will still lose. If the total number of votes exceeds 10 000, how will they explain the excess numbers? This will need more than just six weeks of “meticulous verification”.
Am I missing something here and are we not our own worst enemies? Where are our leaders to guide us and to motivate us? Why are all these opposition political parties not urging their supporters to register? What is NERA doing for its people other than shouting in the dark to ZANU PF who will never listen anyway? Has NERA been highjacked by ZANU PF functionaries as has happened in ZEC?
ZUNDE will not be silent until everyone has registered and voted. We do not care who you vote for. In the end it is your choice that matters. Every vote counts and Morgan Tsvangirai, Welshman Ncube, Tendai Biti, Elton Mangoma, Maxwell Shumba, Dumiso Dabengwa, Simba Makoni, Joice Mujuru and others, please tell your people to go out there and register to vote. That is the best thing you can do for electoral reform. ZANU PF will not reform the security sector. Forget it. But we can defeat the system by reforming ourselves first. So ngatijamuke in the right direction!
Constitutional Law experts will agree with me that the right to vote by every citizen above a certain age is and forms part of the inalienable bundle of rights that are enshrined in the Zimbabwe constitution. No one who is allowed by the constitution to vote should for any reason whatsoever be prevented from casting their ballot. Any attempt by anyone, including government, or anything that stands in the way of anyone who is entitled to vote that bars them from exercising their right to vote should be removed because it is a fundamental breach of a citizen’s rights under the Constitution. Any failure to do so is inexcusable. This is what should be guiding our colleagues fighting for electoral reforms under NERA.
An expert legal colleague recently sent me the following on this subject. He has given me permission to quote his well-articulated communication and I reproduce without any alteration. This is what he says:
Constitutional Interpretation radically differs from legislative interpretation. And without going into the reasons, my concern as stated above has been prompted by whether the NERA parties are addressing the entirety of the Zimbabwe Electoral Law which requires surgery.
(1) The meaning of the Right to Vote and Its full Constitutional Meaning
To start with, rights are interdependent, equal and complementary to each other and reading one right at the exclusion of others amounts to a defective and misleading understanding of what human rights are (this applies to all classes/clusters of rights, political rights, socio-economic rights and group rights and others currently in vogue) and why they are so important.
You correctly pointed to the political rights in Chapter 4. Without going into details, it is important why Sections 45-47 are couched in the manner they are and why they are so important to any discourse on human rights. Of these important aspects, I merely choose to focus on one aspect so that it broadens NERA’s thrust and quest in having an overhaul of the Electoral Law.
In the seminal South African case of August v IEC & Ors, the important point was made by the SA Constitutional Court in that country brought on the basis to extend voting rights to prisoners. The point was made therein that prisoners are people, they do not shed their person hood and their fundamental rights at the prison gates. The vote should be extended to them and logistical difficulties should not be allowed to attenuate or deny them their right to vote. More importantly, the point was made therein that the right to vote is a badge of honour.
It affirms that one is a person and therefore implicates the right to dignity, a right at the core of person hood. To that extent, this right cannot be denied under the excuse of logistical difficulties nor the fact that one has committed an offence. This right cannot be denied on the basis that they have committed an offence. They are still people. No justifiable reason therefore exists for denying them their rights. The right to dignity is an inviolable one that cannot therefore be proscribed under Section 86(3) Put differently, the limitation of that right cannot be denied under the limitation clause under Section 86 of our Constitution
(2) The Right to Vote for Citizens Who Are Non Residents
Non-residents of Zimbabwe who are citizens equally have inviolable rights to vote and logistical, practical and cost implication excuses are nothing but that, they are not reasons and are squarely covered by Section 86(3). Put differently, dignity is non violable and any such limitation on it falls short of the Section 86 (1) and Section 86 (2) limitation clause as being an unjustifiable limitation in a democratic state based on openness, justice , human dignity, equality and freedom taking into account the nature of the right, , the purpose of the limitation, in particular whether is necessary in the interests of defence, public safety, public morality, public health, regional or town planning or the general public interest.
Effectively, NERA should insist on this right being extended to diasporas who are Zimbabwean non-resident but citizens unless the State chooses to throw its own rule book (The Supreme Law) out of the window and into the sewage. Whilst not exhaustive of the issues that NERA should rally around, I thought this is an important rallying point.
I could not have put it any better. It is a clear notification to my colleagues in the opposition movement that we can remove these ZANU PF crooks and get back our country that they have taken from us. We have the power to do it if we do the right things – register to vote and turn out in large numbers on polling day. Zimbabwe belongs to us not to them. Now is the time to stop the national plunder and rebuild Zimbabwe.