Zimbabwe’s political landscape is marred by a history of conflict and violence yet each electoral season remains a beacon of hope for its people. Many look forward to elections to solve political, economic and social distress but this remains an elusive fit. The 2023 harmonized elections left Zimbabweans biting the dust and with a bitter, metallic taste in the mouth, wondering how the Grinch could be so brazen in disregarding the dictates of the constitution of the land.
Unlike the fictional character created by Dr Seuss in the 1957 children’s book, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, this Grinch neither suffers from past traumas nor is he likely to reform. This Grinch is not a single character but is a collective of the current ruling party, ZANU PF, the Judiciary, the military, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and the notorious group Forever Associates of Zimbabwe. This collective, intricately and yet in the most asinine manner, connived to pull off the most shameful electoral heist post Robert Mugabe.
On 3 February 2023, the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, Priscilla Makanyara Chigumba, presented the commission’s final delimitation report to the President. This report was then refuted to be a draft, but the presentation of the final report was never announced. Regardless, the delimitation report was not clear on the formula that was used to calculate and draw up boundaries leading to inconsistencies in statistics permissible as variations in constituencies. According to the Constitution Section 161(16) the allowable variation is 20% and yet ZEC’s formula allowed variations of up to 40%. This was not only unconstitutional but set the tone for a shambolic election. On poll day, thousands of people failed to locate their names at their registered polling station. It is not a coincidence that the *265# platform that was meant to provide voter details was “down” on poll day.
The ruling party had an upper hand during the campaign process. Whilst the advantage was attributed to its fiscal muscle, it was apparent that the police force timeously approved their rallies and yet the opposition faced numerous challenges in attaining clearances. The main opposition party, Citizen’s Coalition for Change, had a total of 92 rallies banned by the Zimbabwe Republic Police. This restricted their access, mainly to ZANU PF strongholds.
Issues of intimidation and harassment of citizens by security forces cannot go unmentioned. Incidents of violence and intimidation were reported in various provinces and yet no redress came from the judiciary. Of note is an incident that led to the incarceration of Job Sikhala, who is to date languishing in prison, charged with various offenses such as inciting violence. In the build up to the election, a feared group known as the Forever Associates of Zimbabwe was accredited to observe the elections. This group’s mandate is not clear as it identifies as a non-governmental organization but depicts characteristics of a quasi-military group. On election day, FAZ set up tables close to polling stations and this influenced the voting outcome.
Whilst the pre-ballot stage was shambolic, nothing prepared Zimbabweans for the chaos that unraveled on polling day. Polling stations did not have voting material at the scheduled opening. At one polling station in Harare, the observer noted that material arrived at 8:45 am and yet opening was set to commence at 7 a.m. resulting in the first vote being cast at 9:45. Voters had been queuing since 5 am with the hope that they would cast their votes and proceed to work. The delay meant that hundreds of people left without voting. Furthermore, the presiding officer only announced in the evening that voting would continue until 21:45. This information was not available to the electorate, and nobody turned up to vote at the extended time. It was also apparent that the electorate would not travel in the dead of the night to cast their votes.
At the delay of opening, many women, including pregnant and nursing mothers, left the queues out of hunger, fatigue and frustration. First time voters also failed to exercise patience. The presence of FAZ without a clear mission was evident and palpable. The observer saw and felt this cold, clammy but silent presence. The effects of delimitation were also observed as many failed to locate their polling station. At a polling station in Harare’s Ward 22, a group of 8 men failed to locate their names in the voter’s roll, and yet, they were sure of their polling station. They were redirected by the presiding officer to nearby polling stations, but their names were not there either. The group registered their frustration after circling the area three times searching for the polling station and ultimately gave up.
It is not a coincidence that ballot papers were in short supply in Harare and Bulawayo, which are opposition strongholds. The case is made more glaring by the fact that rural areas did not experience this delay, but areas in proximity to ZEC’s logistical command were affected. This delay in opposition strongholds, coupled with a flawed delimitation process, was enough for the Grinch to steal the ballot.
Some may ask why the opposition took part in the election, and yet, the odds were clearly against them. The answer is simple, when the hopes of millions of people rest on your shoulders it is onerous to give up. The possibility of a better Zimbabwe, palatable, and yet, the terror of the 2008 presidential election rerun lingers. When all things have been said and done, hope is all that remains, even on a deathbed and yet in the end, it is hope that kills one.