28 February 2008

Zimbabwe: Debunking West's Propaganda


There has been a lot of noise particularly in western and South African media over the forthcoming harmonised elections. In a paper to the Institute of Security Studies in South Africa; Zimbabwe's Ambassador to South Africa, CDE SIMON KHAYA MOYO, gives a detailed analysis of the election environment, and debunks the western hype over the elections. This is the first part of his paper.

ON my part, there is no dictator in Zimbabwe. There are four presidential aspirants who will do battle on 29 March 2008. Only the people of Zimbabwe can through the ballot tell the world who they think has their interest at heart.

These are simple procedural matters, which I thought could enrich our discussions. A brief reference to the history of Zimbabwe particularly the struggle for independence would put the current political and economic environment in the country into context. It would help explain some of the powerful forces at play in the run up to the elections. In other words we are experiencing a situation where events inside the country are interpreted both from within and from outside.

It is in my opinion important to strike that balance when making an objective assessment of the situation in Zimbabwe.

The premise of the movement for liberation which culminated into an armed struggle spearheaded by Zanla and Zipra, the respective military wings of Zanu and Zapu under the banner of the Patriotic Front co-led by the late Dr Joshua Nkomo and President Robert Mugabe was to rid the country of an evil system not a particular race or tribe. It is pertinent to note that the core of that evil system was systematic deprivation of the means of production, in this case land, to the majority of the country's inhabitants.

The sad situation literary saw 70 percent of the most productive land within the hands of about one percent of the population mainly whites. This colonial legacy was at the centre of the Lancaster House peace talks, which eventually brought about a cease-fire and subsequent elections in Zimbabwe.

The talks had to drag for three months and needed the intervention of presidents Kaunda, Machel and Nyerere to succeed.

The British government then under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher promised to fund the land reform programme in an independent Zimbabwe.

The American government also promised to help fund the programme.

Strictly speaking, the primary component of the programme was the transfer of land from minority to majority ownership.

The Lancaster House Constitution, largely a compromise document, placed a halt to the transfer of land for a period of 10 years, except on a willing buyer willing seller basis.

At the lapse of that constitutional requirement, the Government postponed such implementation for the fear that the move could have jeopardised delicate political processes in Namibia and South Africa.

With the principle of "willing buyer willing seller" failing to gain a foothold mainly because of the unrealistic and exorbitant price demanded by the farmers, the process was not helped either by the decision of the labour government of prime minister Tony Blair to renege on their obligations.

Claire Short the then minister of Overseas Development in a letter to the Zimbabwean authorities in 1997 was quoted as saying, "I should make it clear that we do not accept that Britain has special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe. We are a new government from diverse background without links to former colonial interests. My own origins are Irish and as you know we were colonised not colonisers."

The 1998 Land Conference, which many like to refer to, failed because the British, the main player had already bolted out.

While the foot dragging continued in the capital cities, so did the patience of the landless and their local leadership run out. Thus in 2000, one Chief Svosve of the Hwedza area moved in with his landless people to occupy, not invade, some of the nearby farms. The war veterans, landless too, then joined in the effort.

The Government had to move in to sanitise the occupations though a series of legal instruments including the principle of one person one farm and farm sizes as per climatic region.

It so happened that the year 2000 was a parliamentary election year, which included the entry into the fray of the Movement for Democratic Change, a party led by former trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai.

A year earlier, the MDC had been formed with the backing of the mostly the white commercial farmers and external partners including the British and American governments.

It is important to highlight the fact that the pre-2000 election environment in Zimbabwe, created from within and from outside the country, repeated itself throughout other elections to come in 2002 presidential and 2005 parliamentary.

That very same environment is equally evident in 2008. In 2000, "Mugabe had violated fundamental property rights by seizing white-owned farms," and the answer to that was supposed to be an emphatic loss of Zanu-PF in the legislative polls. When the MDC failed to win, there were allegations of voter intimidation and violence levelled against Zanu-PF and the Government. A firm agenda of "regime change" was instituted by Blair and US President George W Bush.

The programme was among other things, tailored to support the opposition and civil society hostile to the Government to achieve that objective.

When the MDC lost the presidential elections in 2002 the new accusation was that "Mugabe had stolen elections and was therefore heading an illegitimate government." That was despite the fact that reputable organisations such as the AU, NAM, Sadc and Ecowas among others had passed the elections as free and fair.

The same theme of "election theft" was played again when the MDC lost the 2005 parliamentary poll. When one is looking at the situation in Zimbabwe, the given background is very important.

From the West's point of view, aptly supported by a massive media empire and economic might by way of the comprehensive economic sanctions on the country, the electoral process in Zimbabwe can only be free and fair if and as when President Mugabe and his Zanu-PF have been removed from office for his "sins" on land reform. Any other factors are not only secondary but of no consequence. The background to the 2008 election should be viewed in the same light.

The theme to 2008 is now "Mugabe is presiding over an ailing economy and trampling on human rights of his people. So he must go."

From the outside, the picture being portrayed is one of a bad situation, which should not be allowed to continue. The idea is to wage a massive media campaign against Zimbabwe and with the economic hardship, the people would be expected to vote out the President and Zanu-PF. Bush during this recent visit to Africa reiterated his government's continued support for the opposition and civil society in the regime change agenda. The same applies to Britain.

There has been some deliberate if not mischievous distortion of the exercise to delimit constituencies. It is neither the Government nor the ruling party which carried out the delimitation process.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, which is constitutionally empowered to carry out the delimitation process, spent considerable time moving around all the country's provinces holding consultations with all political parties and other stakeholders such as civic groups, chiefs, headmen, councillors and ordinary people. Zanu-PF, the MDC and Zanu (Ndonga) were consulted and they all gave their inputs.

As a result of Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 18) Act, which was co-sponsored by both Zanu-PF and the MDC, both Senate and House of Assembly constituencies were increased.

The Senate will now comprise 93 members, six from each province directly elected by voters, 10 provincial governors, the president and deputy president of the Council of Chiefs, 16 chiefs and five Senators appointed by the President. Members of the House of Assembly have been increased from 150 to 210, all of whom would be directly elected.

Harare has 29 constituencies, Bulawayo 12, Midlands 28, Manicaland 26, Mashonaland Central 18, Mashonaland East 23, Mashonaland West 22, Masvingo 26 Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South 13 each. In the elections to be held on March 29 2008, ward voters' rolls will be used, instead of the constituency voters' roll as in the past.

ZEC delimited a total of 1 958 wards throughout the country. A lot of unfounded criticism has been levelled against the ZEC, even when the facts are so clear for everyone to see. The operative Electoral Act and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Act became the law governing elections beginning February 1 2005, replacing the old Electoral Act.

Under section 61 of the Constitution, ZEC was established as the election management body. It is mandated among other things, to delimitate wards and constituencies into which the country is divided for purposes of elections, and to run presidential, parliamentary and local government elections, as well as referendums. This function includes the preparations and conduct of elections, as well as voter education.

The principles that guide the delimitation of wards and constituencies are enshrined in sub-section (6) under section 61 of the Constitution. Sub-section (6) provides that in dividing the country into wards and House of Assembly constituencies, ZEC should give due consideration to the following: (a) the area's physical features, (b) the means of communication within the area, (c) the geographical distribution of registered voters, (d) the community of interest as between registered voters, and (e) the existing electoral boundaries.

Sub-section 7 provides that after delimiting the wards and House of Assembly constituencies, the 60 elective Senate constituencies are delimited by assigning to each Senate constituency a House of Assembly constituency or two or more contiguous House of Assembly constituencies as the case maybe.

In order to enhance the participation of stakeholders and the electorate at large, the exercise was decentralised to the province and district levels. Accordingly, provincial and district delimitation committees were set up throughout the country. The district delimitation committees reported to the provincial delimitation committees. The provinces reported to the National Delimitation Committee comprising the Secretariat of the Commission under the overall supervision of the Chief Elections Officer. The whole process was carried under the supervision of the Commission comprising the seven commissioners.

The voter population as at the date of finalising the delimitation report was 5 612 464, (December 4 2007). In terms of the law, the number of voters in a given House of Assembly constituency must be as nearly as possible equal to the number of voters in each of the other House of Assembly constituencies.

Following this principle, ZEC established that the average number of voters in each House of Assembly constituency as 26 726. This was done by diving the total number of voters in the country by the 210 of House of Assembly constituencies into which the country is divided. The Constitution of Zimbabwe allows for 20 percent above and below the average number of registered voters per House of Assembly constituency.

Twenty percent of 26 726 is 5 345,2 rounded off to 5 345. Using this formula, ZEC ascertained that the maximum number of voters in any constituency would be 26 726 plus 5 345 which equals 32 071 and the minimum number would be 26 726 minus 5 345 which equals 21 381.

Accordingly, the number of voters in the House of Assembly constituencies will range between 21 381 and 32 071. We present these facts and figures to both challenge and debunk unfounded and totally baseless allegations that the delimitation exercise was partisan and done to give unfair advantage to the ruling Zanu-PF party. In fact the Harare Province has the largest number of constituencies, and all parties enjoy equal and fair opportunities to garner any seats in any constituency across the country.

In the area of voter education, ZEC produces its own voter education material. In the past, we had a problem of NGO's producing their own materials, some of which were seen to be undesirable. ZEC is free to appoint any person or institution to assist it in providing voter education using approved materials.

No person other than the Commission or a person or institutions appointed in terms of the law or a political party shall provide voter education unless such person is a citizen of Zimbabwe or permanent resident of Zimbabwe or an association of persons consisting exclusively of citizens or permanent residents of Zimbabwe. The voter education activities shall be funded solely by local contributions or donations.

Foreign contributions or donations are prohibited except where the donations are made to ZEC.

Political parties which have a demonstrable level of voter support beyond a certain threshold receive a certain amount of support from the national treasury.

These laws and regulations have been passed because we do not believe in open-ended funding for political parties and processes from external sources.

The verdict of our people expressed through elections should manifest freely, uncontaminated by outside money.

Yet another unfounded concern relates to the composition of ZEC.

Regarding the appointment of the members of the Commission, the Act is clear that the President will appoint the chairperson of the Commission after consultations with the Judicial Services Commission and four other commissioners from a list of seven nominees submitted by the Parliamentary committee on Standing Rules and Orders.

The chairperson of the Commission is supposed to be a person qualified to be a judge of the High Court or Supreme Court.

In line with the provisions of the Act establishing ZEC, His Excellency President Mugabe appointed members of the Commission after BI-partisan consultations in our parliament. High court judge George Chiweshe is the chairperson of the Commission. The members of the Commission were appointed from a list of names submitted by the parliamentary committee on standing rules and orders which is chaired by the Speaker of Parliament, and is made up of Members of the House of Assembly from all parties. It is therefore disingenuous for some political formations to now turn around and question the legitimacy and integrity of this constitutional body and its composition.

According to the Electoral Act Chapter 2.13, Section 110, sub-section 3, where two or more candidates for president are commended, and after the first round of elections with no candidate receiving a majority of 51 percent of the total number of valid votes cast, a second election shall be held within 21 days after the previous election.

In a run-off election, only the two candidates who would have received the highest and next highest numbers of valid votes cast in the first round are eligible to contest the run-off election. If, after a run-off election, the two candidates receive an equal number of votes, parliament reconfigures itself into an Electoral College and elects one of the two candidates as President by secret ballot.

The Voters Roll is still open and inspections are continuing.

The nomination courts sat on February 15 2008 and registered four presidential candidates and 976 candidates for the two Houses of Parliament.

ZEC officials as well as others from the civil society such as the Zimbabwe Election Support Network have embarked on a country wide voter education campaign.

Our law enforcement agents have tightened security with a countrywide ban on the carrying of dangerous weapons such as knives, guns, machetes etc. the parties have started campaigning in earnest.

The atmosphere is overally peaceful with the exception of a few minor skirmishes usually involving youths from either side of the political divide who engage in acts of provocation. The police have been able to arrest the perpetrators of such violence. I may wish to add that some youths engage in acts of provocation in order to attract publicity.

Invitations to observe elections are already being rolled out. Interested media houses and organisations are free to apply for accreditation to observe the elections. Applications may be made directly to Zimbabwe or through the diplomatic missions where they are available. For the purpose of internal arrangements, I am satisfied with the work of ZEC to date in particular its decision to extend the inspection of the voters' roll. ZEC is headed by a High Court judge and operates within the framework of the Constitution. That there is no provision for external or on-line ballot is something passed in Parliament.

That is why I sometimes find it rather misinformed or simply mischievous that there are groups, usually comprising youths picketing the Embassy "demanding external ballot." These groups masquerade as "exiles or refugees."

I have always stressed the point that those people if genuine, should go back home and participate in the electoral processes.

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