By Nkosana Dlamini
AN investigation countrywide has shown some voters were forced to fake illiteracy in order to allow a Zanu PF loyalist to assist them vote and make sure they voted for a ruling party candidate.
According to a report in NewsDay of 1 August 2018, a total 55 375 people were assisted to vote in Masvingo province alone. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission could not furnish this publication with aggregated information on who these were.
Further investigations have revealed that there was a total of 2 595 assisted voters in Bikita East constituency. Of these, 1 956 were women while 639 were male.
There were 3 019 assisted voters in Bikita South; 2 214 were women while 805 were men.
Bikita West recorded 2 110 assisted voters; 1 621 women and 489 male.
In these three constituencies which were all won by Zanu PF, there were 7 724 assisted voters.
In the July 2018 election, Masvingo province had a total 617 212 registered voters.
Of the number, 519 443 turned up to vote on election day with President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his close challenger, Nelson Chamisa polling a combined 490 269 votes – Mnangagwa 319,073 (61.41 %) / Chamisa 171,196 (33 %).
The recorded 55 375 assisted voters in Masvingo alone represented 17 percent of the total votes cast for both Mnangagwa and Chamisa in the province.
Nelson Chamisa and Emmerson Mnangagwa
The pattern of suspicious numbers of assisted voters was first observed in the 2013 elections which were won overwhelmingly by Zanu PF.
According to the poll based NGO, Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN), this was more marked in Zanu PF stronghold rural Mashonaland areas.
In 2013, some 97 voters out of 370 were assisted to vote at one polling station in Muzarabani, 77 out of 374 at a second station and 85 out of 374 at a third station.
In Muzarabani North, more than half of the 17 400 voters were assisted.
South Africa based Zimbabwean political commentator Brian Ngwenya says the high numbers of assisted voters locally makes does not speak to Zimbabwe’s much-famed highest literacy rate in Africa.
According to the 2018 election results announced by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, Zanu PF won 25 seats against the MDC’s 1.
NewZimbabwe.com, in collaboration with a Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) project to promote investigative journalism into poll-related stories of public interest, took time to investigate the claims of people being forced to surrender their franchise to militant Zanu PF activists.
Findings of the investigation also corroborated those of local rights and poll based groups that have been reporting on claims of intimidation by Zanu PF.
The Zimbabwe Peace Project reported in its July 2018 report that, “There were reports of assisted voting in some areas. Zanu PF activists were accused in most of the cases for coercing villagers into being assisted. In some cases, villagers who did not want to be victimised after elections freely offered to be assisted.
“Zanu PF activists were accused of paddocking villagers and shepherding them to vote in a particular order for surveillance and purposes of instilling fear.”
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, a government rights watchdog, said in its post-election report that, “Intimidation reports received by the commission related to forced assistance on polling day as some members of the community were assigned a person who would accompany them to vote.”
A high number of assisted voting cases were reported in 7 constituencies namely, Chivi North, Murehwa South, Buhera South, Gokwe North, Shamva North, Bindura North and Hurungwe West, according to the rights body.
NewZimbabwe.com took time to visit the cited areas in Masvingo where interviews were conducted with affected persons with most speaking on condition they are not named for fear of reprisals.
Felix Mabhuku (not his real name) is a teacher and was a polling official at a Bikita secondary school.
During polling, he said, he saw two of his male former Form 6 students and a local businessman being assisted to vote.
Those who were assisting the voters were a group of known Zanu PF activists who walked in and out of the polling station.
To make a circus of the process, voters, including those who were claiming to be illiterate, would later be required to append signatures onto a separate polling station book, something which they did free of any hassles.
Further investigations revealed that Zanu PF had a well-choreographed voting system in which traditional leaders dragged dozens of their people to station some 500 metres outside polling centres.
The chief would release his people in batches to go and vote in a particular order.
In some cases, Zanu PF used headmen as polling agents.
Their job was to ensure the people who were told to ask for assistance comply with the instructions and follow the order.
“At Chireya primary school in Mashonaland East, headmen Michael Tupe, Simon Ruvura and Givemore Nehurambe were Zanu PF polling agents,” said ZPP.
Other headmen who were cited in the illegal practice were named as Pisai, Njini, Madhaka, Madhume, Munyenyiwa, Musinagura, Panye, Millo and Vhimisai in Masvingo rural.
The bias towards Zanu PF was confirmed by National Council of Chiefs (NCC) president Fortune Charumbira who encouraged other traditional leaders to support Zanu PF’s 2018 election campaigns.
A Zanu PF activist from Bikita South said on condition of anonymity that he was among party activists who were tasked by Ward 31 Councillor Maud Ngwenya to ferry villagers to Banana Tent polling station.
Ngwenya, according to the activist, was supervising other activists assigned to ferry voters to polling stations in the area and to follow the order as instructed during earlier party meetings.
Asked to comment, Ngwenya was livid over the accusations.
“How can a woman like me have all the power and energy to commandeer grown men to polling stations to go and vote for Zanu PF?
“Where were the police when I was doing all that? Why are those people coming to you to make those complaints? Why are they not going straight to the police?
“There were election observers. Did they say that I bussed people to polling stations?”
It however emerged that not everyone who was assisted to vote was directly forced to request for any assistance.
Edith Maphosa is 55 and has consistently voted unaided since the 1980 elections.
She said she voluntarily asked to be assisted to vote at a school in Bikita South by a Zanu PF activist because she feared victimisation if the MDC won the constituency.
Maphosa said she and her family suffered in 2008 when MDC presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai won the first round of the poll and thereafter, she has been among “suspects” who have been denied food assistance.
By volunteering to be assisted, she was trying to convince her abusers that she did not vote the opposition.
Acting Zimbabwe Electoral Commission CEO Utoile Silaigwana denied any knowledge of forced assisted voting.
“If at all these things happened then they happened outside our polling stations and in that case we had no jurisdiction over them.
“What I can safely tell you is that in our voter education we emphasised that your vote is secret. All those who were not able to vote on their own due to illiteracy or physical impairment were allowed to bring trusted persons of their choice to assist them for as long as those helpers were above 18 years of age.”
ZEC CEO Utoile Silaigwana