After watching chaotic scenes at Ross Police Camp in Bulawayo, my heart sank. Social Media went into overdrive with the rigging narrative occupying the hearts of many. I tried to read what was happening from the video clips, but I failed. It made no sense to me. I had many questions. Not only me, but many peace-loving Zimbabweans. Was this a genuine vote? Why where there many people with cameras taking photos? Why were there people opening envelopes with ballots? Who were they? Some people were saying ZEC ran away from the scene. Was that true? There was a pile of brown envelopes on the table that someone in the video referred to as spoiled votes. Spoiled Votes? If this was a postal vote, why were we told the police were forced to vote in the presence of their senior officers? Why were the police standing outside helplessly while a woman was accusing them? The list of questions goes on. Who is going to answer these questions for us? Without answers, confusion will prevail.
There seems to be a demon of misinformation that breads on Social Media. That demon can only be deprived by transparency and openness. ZEC needs to be proactive, not reactive.
According to Denford Magora, this is what happened:
An alert was sent to the MDC Alliance by a policeman at Ross Camp saying the policemen there were being “forced” to vote in the presence of their superiors and crying out for help. The Alliance immediately broadcast the alert across social media.
The Herald interviewed the Acting Chief Elections Officer for ZEC who denied that there was any voting taking place, saying he was still processing postal vote applications.
Videos and images soon emerged showing that there had indeed been voting at that Camp and ZEC Commissioners scrambled to get onto social media and confirm that postal voting had indeed taken place at the camp and would be sent to the relevant polling stations on voting day.
I spoke to someone who went there in person to see if indeed there was voting. The person confirmed people voted.
For a body whose credibility is under such serious assault, questioned so loudly, this behaviour only reinforces the charges of arrogance.
Let us look at the substance of the process.
Yes, indeed, postal votes are permitted by our laws. Yes, there is a timetable that was published to guide this process and most of those needing postal votes knew they had to have them with ZEC by Monday 16 July 2018. And it could well be that this is what happened today.
But now we must look at the unwarranted destruction of their own credibility engineered by ZEC today.
Certainly, in their shoes, under the current climate, we would have made a point of ensuring that, just as the finishing of printing was announced, we would also announce the starting of postal voting, just to be transparent. (The presidential ballot was specifically announced, and we have not heard anything about the parliamentary ballot paper printing, alleging that those who voted at Ross Camp today also voted for MPs rather alarming).
Here then are the problems confronting ZEC about the way they have handled this particular matter, we can be sure, all Zimbabweans, supporters of all parties, are asking the following questions:
- How come the Acting Chief Elections Officer and the Commissioners were not aware that there was voting going on in Bulawayo today? Who then oversaw that process if he was not aware?
- Was the Chief Executive Officer of the Commission aware? If he was, is he still fit for that job if he failed or neglected to tell the Commissioners? Why did he/she not alert them of this process? Does the CEO have full, complete and autonomous executive authority to do this without informing the Commissioners?
- How were the ballot papers transported to Bulawayo? By whom? When?
- Did the top brass supervise the voting or not?
Now, there is no need for observers for postal voting (embassy staff and others do postal votes and it would be impossible for observers to fly teams to all these places all over the world to observe the processes).
Contrary to Tendai Biti’s assertion that the Ross Camp incident was a violation of the Electoral Law in terms of setting up a Polling Station at a cantonment, postal votes are not cast at a polling station. For us to understand this, let us put it this way:
When you get your postal ballot paper, you can complete it anywhere: at your house, in your office, even in the bus. That does not make any of these places polling stations.
The real problem, however, is that, instead of distributing the ballot papers to policemen to fill in in private and then return, sealed, for posting to the relevant authorities, the police bosses at Ross Camp appear to have set up a room and forced all policemen registered for postal voting to cast their votes in a room at the Camp.
Who gave that instruction?
To a neutral observer, this whole episode smells to the high heavens.
A full explanation is now required at the next briefing or sooner from the ZEC Chair. This incident goes way beyond the bounds of independence unless of course, the intention within the Commission is to sabotage President Mnangagwa and ZANU PF by casting doubt on the elections and ensuring that they can not possibly be given an unqualified clean bill of health.
Failure to provide full disclosure will compromise this election and taint it irreparably.
Of their own volition, the Commission will now, if we were offering advice, have to disclose the timetable from the time the ballot was printed, when it was shipped to Bulawayo, how it was shipped there and by whom, what instructions or protocols were dictated to the police in terms of how they should handle these postal votes, whether that protocol was followed or breached and, if it was breached, what action they recommend should be taken. If the protocol was not breached, how was it not breached?
This will restore faith in the process.
Nelson Chamisa and his Alliance have been handed an absolute coup by how this incident has been handled by ZEC.
All of sudden, their demands and their cries do not look alarmist anymore to the electorate. They have ceased to be cry-babies and only time will tell what impact this will have on the election itself.
My fear is not that there was rigging. There wasn’t. The police officer who called MDC said the only problem he had was that he was “Forced” to vote, possibly near senior officers. We have no idea what that means. My fear is what the fear of rigging will do to the electorate. Many may choose not to vote because they don’t think their votes matter. I am afraid of blatant misinformation that may lead to social unrest in the country. This may lead to real people dying for nothing. Political parties need to use wisdom.
Full disclosure is the only thing that will save the day here for ZEC and even then, we fear enough damage has been done to significantly taint the entire Commission.