This reporter, on the 20th of October this year, visited one of the few registration centres in the capital (Harare) with the intention to register to vote in the 2018 elections.
It was almost midday when I arrived at the registration centre located at Harare’s Town House. Less than 30 people were queuing into one of the offices where officials from Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) were registering potential voters using Zimbabwe’s newly adopted Biometric Voters Registration (BVR) system.
I joined the slowly moving queue upon securing a signed proof of residence in form of a signed affidavit form from MDC-T legislator, Prosper Mutseyami. I had to complete this form as I had no proof of residence in the form of signed affidavit, which is a prerequisite for one to be registered as a voter
It took more than one and half hours for me to finally get into the room where the registration was taking place. The actual process of getting registered as a voter took ten minutes. Most of the time was consumed by the finger print taking process, which was very slow as some fingers could not be easily sensed in their BVR machines. The time I took was relatively less compared to those who had entered before. Most of them took more than 15 minutes inside because they did not know their wards.
One unidentified lady, also assisted by Honourable Mutseyami to complete a proof of residence affidavit, left the venue before she could be registered as a voter. This lady who claimed to be a teacher gave up saying she had endured more than two hours and the queue still remained stagnant.
“The only thing that you can get more easily here is an affidavit, it took me less than three minutes to have it and since then I have been waiting here for hours. My legs are now in pain. I can’t take it anymore”, she said.
“I will try another day. Maybe they will improve,” added the visibly tired lady before she left in frustration.
The case was different with Amon Hlatwayo (not real name), who operates as vendor in the capital. He said he would not go unregistered despite the inordinate delays inherent in the registration process.
He said he would rather endure to register as a voter than to endure the economic situation in the country. He urged others to brave for those few hours so that they will be empowered to choose a leader of their choice next year.
“With what I am seeing in the country, I will not leave this place unregistered; we have suffered so much at the hands of this government. We should take this opportunity to register so that we do away with this current system,” said Hlatwayo who had just been chased from where he operates as a vendor by the Police.
This is all but a synopsis of how the vaunted BVR process is unfolding. As per what this reporter went through and other experiences elsewhere, there are fears that a stage has been set for voter apathy.
Besides the inefficiency in the BVR process, which has resulted in many people turning away without registering, there are growing cases of politically motivated violence. A week ago MDC-T supporters who were mobilising their members to go and register to vote were severely assaulted by suspected ZANU PF youths in Chitungwiza.
Election Resource Centre (ERC), a local election monitoring body said it was very worried about the incidences of violence, which it says is likely to compromise the fairness of the 2018 elections.
“These acts of intimidation and violence threaten the right of people to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of peaceful assembly, expression and association, under Section 67 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. Tolerance of divergent views and opinions is a crucial pillar of democracy, said ERC in a statement.
“These acts are liabilities to the international principles of voter registration such as comprehensiveness, inclusivity and credibility”, added ERC, which says its Call Centre and other dialogue and monitoring platforms have received feedback suggests a sharp increase of intimidation and violence during the ongoing voter registration exercise.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), another election monitoring organisation also said it has received reports of intimidation in relation to the ongoing BVR process.
“We have received reports of intimidation, especially in rural areas, whereby registrants are being misinformed about the BVR and its purpose. Potential registrants are being threatened that having registered using the system it is possible to know who they will vote for in the 2018 elections. These cases were reported in Mudzi North Ward 1, Murewa North Ward 4 and Muzarabani Ward 3 among other areas,” said ZESN in a statement.
As ZESN further pointed out, the peddling of misinformation and intimidation of citizens that has so far characterised the BVR process “is a serious violation of the right to free participation in electoral process that threatens the credibility of the whole electoral process.”