Zimbabwe opposition leader Chamisa vows ‘the devil will not prevail’ after voters struggle to cast ballots
Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa of the Citizens Coalition for Change, has claimed that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government is manipulating the electoral process after several irregularities were reported at polling stations in many parts of the country.
Hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans, if not millions, had not voted at the scheduled close of polling stations — 7pm on Wednesday, 23 August — after the body overseeing the elections, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), failed to provide voting materials on time in most parts of the country, resulting in electoral management officials extending the voting deadline.
More than 6.5 million people were registered to vote in the elections, according to the ZEC, but it could not be independently verified how many people had cast their ballots, as the electoral body was yet to make any tabulation of total votes cast at the close of voting on Wednesday.
The ZEC announced that it was extending the close of voting at all polling stations that were affected by its administrative bungling, which has put the country on course for yet another disputed poll after the main opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), raised fears of ballot-rigging.
Some would-be voters were still queuing to cast their ballots late into Wednesday night.
“Voting here in Harare South constituency started very late in the afternoon and we have been told that ballot papers are finished. We are determined to vote and we will stay put until we get a chance to vote,” said Clarence Mashambamuto, who lives in the populous Stoneridge suburb of Harare.
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A potential voter in Marondera, Mashonaland East Province, Shelton Kumbawa, told Daily Maverick that he and many others returned home after being told that ballot papers were not available.
“We spent the whole day waiting for ballot papers so we decided to go back home. We can’t be waiting in the queue without any food so we decided to go to our houses. We will only return when we have information that the ballot papers have been distributed to our polling stations.”
“Exit political survey desks” were reportedly set up by the Zanu-PF-aligned Forever Associates Zimbabwe (FAZ), a shadowy group with links to the country’s spy network, the Central Intelligence Organisation. Details of voters who had cast their votes were allegedly being recorded at the desks, located outside several polling stations countrywide.
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A video that circulated on social media showed the former Zanu-PF provincial chairperson for Mashonaland West, Temba Mliswa, who is contesting again as an independent parliamentary candidate, confronting a woman suspected to be a FAZ member who was compiling a list of people who had voted.
Efforts to get comment from the FAZ founder, retired Brigadier-General Walter Tapfumaneyi, were fruitless.
‘ZEC confirmed our fears’
Chamisa told a news conference on Wednesday night that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government was manipulating the people’s will.
The 45-year-old Chamisa said the electoral commission — working in cahoots with Zanu-PF and Mnangagwa — was pushing Zimbabwe into a crisis that would have catastrophic results.
“ZEC seem to have confirmed our fears that probably they would fail to pass the credibility test, the professionalism test and the constitutionality test. More importantly, a non-partisan test,” Chamisa said.
In some areas, the ballot papers had the names of contestants swapped, with the one representing the CCC appearing on the Zanu-PF slot, and vice versa.
Chamisa said the electoral body was disfranchising the electorate in Harare and Bulawayo as well as Manicaland Province, where he said his party commanded a huge following.
“That verdict is being contaminated, adulterated because the people have spoken, the people are clear. Across the country, people are clear that they want change. We can see that Zanu-PF is very desperate,” Chamisa said.
The elections got off to a late start at several polling stations countrywide because of logistical problems encountered by the ZEC, which claimed that its poor running of the polls was caused by the litigious nature of the run-up to the polls. The prelude to the election was also characterised by violence and the intimidation of opposition supporters.
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Chamisa said he was confident of victory in the polls despite shenanigans by unidentified people who littered the streets, precast walls and other structures with flyers and posters discouraging Zimbabweans from voting.
“That is the desperation. Zanu-PF has run out of ideas but, thank God, Zimbabweans are determined to see change, all the antics of the devil will not prevail.”
ZEC chairperson Rodney Kiwa had a short response to Daily Maverick’s queries: “We are sorry for minor logistical challenges that we encountered. But everything is under control.”
He refused to answer further questions.
According to Zimbabwe’s laws, once voting commences, it has to continue for 12 hours uninterrupted. Given that most polling stations opened after 6pm in Harare and some rural areas, it means that voting will continue into August 24.
“This is a strategy being employed by Zanu-PF to bus people from rural areas who would have voted already to come and vote in the urban areas. It is analogue-rigging, a primitive manner of managing the elections. I see tactics of desperation, these tactics are done by people who are in trouble,” Chamisa said.
According to Charles Kwaramba, the presidential election agent for Chamisa, the irregularities are “astonishing”.
“Some voters couldn’t find their names [on the voters’ roll]. This is a shame,” Kwaramba said.
According to election agents, in Harare West, voting only started two hours before the scheduled closing time and presidential ballot papers had run out.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Zimbabwe 2023 Elections
A repeat of 2018?
Mnangagwa, who vowed to win resoundingly, cast his vote at Sherwood Primary School in Kwekwe, Midlands Province. Chamisa voted in Harare.
This is the second election after the fall of the late Robert Mugabe, whose reign was characterised by vote-rigging. According to Chamisa, the current regime is worse than Mugabe’s in terms of violating people’s rights
Chamisa, who is facing 80-year-old Mnangagwa for the second time in an election, said he would not accept any result that does not put him in front of Mnangagwa.
He said if the electoral body announces Mnangagwa as the winner, it would have driven the country into chaos and Chamisa’s supporters will not allow a repeat of 2018 when the results were disputed after Chamisa narrowly lost. Protests erupted after the 2018 election and security forces killed six people.
The 2023 polls are being observed by at least 50 international observer missions, including from the Southern African Development Community, the African Union, the European Union and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa.
Locally, a number of civil society groups are also observing the elections. Among them is the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, which in its preliminary report said the prevailing situation added to the trust deficit the ZEC suffered after it made a series of controversial decisions that seemed to favour Zanu-PF.
“What is not adding up is that the ballot papers for presidential candidates and National Assembly candidates, where there were court challenges, were available at all polling stations, and the local authority ballot papers, where there were no court challenges, were the ones that remained unavailable, resulting in the delays,” the pro-democracy group said in a statement.
“In light of this, we strongly call on [the] ZEC to realise that the last of its integrity is at stake, and the only source of salvation is coming out to address the nation, acknowledge its failure, and come up with a clear plan to deal with the crisis it has created. Failure to do that, the election management body would have indicted itself as the major impediment to free, fair and credible elections in Zimbabwe.”
Zanu-PF spokesperson Christopher Mutsvangwa was unavailable for comment. However, Nick Mangwana, the permanent secretary in Zimbabwe’s information ministry, said authorities were doing all they could to ensure all registered voters were able to cast their ballots.
“Government will ensure that nobody is disenfranchised in this election. Measures are under way to address the situation at the few polling stations affected by logistical challenges,” Mangwana said. DM