WITH only three months to go before the coalition government's tenure ends on June 29 and crucial elections beckoning, the latest theatre of political contestation is the "alien constituency" which has the potential to swing the vote.
Of the unity government partners — Zanu PF, MDC-T and MDC — it is the former ruling party that has hit the ground running, embarking on a vigorous recruitment drive in order to win the vote of "aliens" once derided by President Robert Mugabe as "totemless" people.
He was widely criticised for these xenophobic remarks. The party has been holding meetings on farms in Mashonaland Central encouraging "aliens" to register and vote Zanu PF as party officials claim they helped restore their voting rights.
Sources said Zanu PF district commissars have been emphasising the historic ties between Zanu PF and the aliens' countries of origin.
"Zanu PF has played a crucial role in making sure that you get your voting rights. Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique have been close since time immemorial so there is no need to vote for any other party besides Zanu PF," is the message being preached to aliens, sources said.
The battle lines have been drawn as the MDC parties are also claiming credit for ensuring that dual citizenship and voting rights for formerly disenfranchised voters are included in the new constitution.
MDC-T spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora said citizenship ought to be "by registration and by descent" and therefore dual citizenship must be allowed.
"The MDC-T position has always been that under this constitution, dual or multiple citizenship is automatically allowed for Zimbabwean citizens by birth," said Mwonzora.
Zimbabweans of foreign origin last voted in the 2000 constitutional referendum and were denied the vote in the just-ended referendum on the draft constitution which ironically restores their citizenship and concomitant voting rights.
While there are no official figures of citizens of foreign descent, the number of Zimbabweans of Malawian, Zambian and Mozambican origin is thought to be in millions and these could swing the vote in favour of any party that successfully woos them.
Former Malawi Information minister Patricia Kaliati once estimated that more than a third of Zimbabwe's population is of Malawian origin, with the majority of them residing in farming and mining communities around the country.
In 2005 Kaliati reportedly said Malawi and Zimbabwe enjoyed cordial relations since the times of the Rhodesia and Nyasaland Federation, pointing out "Zimbabwe is playing host to over five million Malawians".
"If we quarrel with (President Robert) Mugabe where will these Malawians go?" she asked.
Even without census figures, Mugabe and Zanu PF evidently believed the "aliens" were numerous enough to be decisive in elections, and blamed them for the party's defeat in the constitutional referendum of 2000.
This week Justice deputy minister Obert Gutu said there was need to align Zimbabwe's laws, including the enfranchisement of the former aliens, before elections can be held.
"Those who say we will have elections in June obviously got their basic arithmetic wrong because from May 7 when the constitutional Bill is brought before parliament, it would take at least three months to finalise everything, including harmonising the country's laws with the new constitution," Gutu said.
He also said there was need to ensure the newly enfranchised aliens are added to the voters' roll, criticised as shambolic, to enable them to exercise their rights.
According to the Citizenship Rights in Africa Initiative dedicated to ending statelessness and the arbitrary denial of citizenship, Zimbabwe is one of the countries on the continent said to be practising denationalisation, a move described as a severe human rights abuse now more entrenched because of Zanu PF's xenophobic treatment of "aliens" now perceived as MDC supporters.