HomeOpinionElections: 32 years of going nowhere?

Conrad the rally conqueror

Both wings of the Patriotic Front, Zanu and Zapu, felt a military victory was near, but conditions in the region were unfavourable. However, during the Lusaka Commonwealth Conference in August 1979 all parties agreed on a conference to end the war and prepare for elections to introduce African majority rule after 90 years of colonial domination.

In September the protagonists assembled at Lancaster House in London and by December an agreement was signed on a ceasefire and a new constitution as Zimbabwe anticipated its first “democratic” elections. 

But could it be assured they would be “free and fair”? As this question is topical in view of the next elections, it might be of interest to look at a paper presented to the conference by the Patriotic Front.

Following a Southern Africa African Development Community (Sadc) summit in Luanda last week, the country would start preparation for elections and it would be useful to look back how far we have come since Lancaster House talks to the current situation where we are once again talking about a new constitution and elections.

The paper presented by the Patriotic Front was interesting. Titled “Conditions for Free and Fair Elections”, dated October 25 1979, the paper contained demands for free and fair elections or the conditions which must exist before elections. Find below the excerpts:


The primary condition for free and fair elections is peace and security in the country, i.e. conditions in which every citizen can enjoy the fundamental freedoms of the individual, and in particular freedom of assembly and association, movement, expression, and freedom from harassment and intimidation.  This can only be provided by security forces which are impartial and in which everyone has confidence.

Hence the security forces during the interim period must be an army composed of a combination of the Patriotic Front’s and the Regime’s armies and a police force composed of a combination of the Patriotic Front’s and the Regime’s police forces, operating in both cases alongside a United Nations Peace-keeping force and a United Nations Civilian Police Force to supervise the ceasefire and ensure peaceful integration.

Preparatory processes

These must include: the return of refugees, the release of political prisoners, detainees and restrictees, and the abolition of protected villages, and the resettlement of the persons concerned; the promulgation of an electoral law; the establishment of an Electoral Commission; the registration of voters; the delimitation of constituencies.


Parties must be able to campaign freely and in conditions of safety to travel around the country; address meetings; carry out house to house canvassing; assist people to register as voters.



There must be protection of voters to and from the polling station;
There must be freedom of the voter to cast his ballot for the party or candidate of his choice;
There must be freedom of the parties to be in attendance at polling stations;
There must be security of polling booths and ballot boxes both during and after the voting;
There must be polling stations within walking distance of every voter.  Mobile polling stations will not be used;
Representatives of the candidates and the United Nations supervisors will be present at all times at polling booths and during counting and
Voting will be one day only.

“The foregoing conditions for free and fair elections can only exist in a situation free of war, martial law, state of emergency, and where there is an impartial public service, army and police force,” the Patriotic Front demanded.

“The electoral machinery (conditions) we have outlined is necessary in order to prevent corruption, intimidation, economic pressure and other undue influence on voters, people voting more than once, and other malpractices.”

Not all these demands, which are similar in some respects with what some parties and civil society organisations are currently insisting on before the next elections, were met.  The 1980 elections were supervised by the British governor and his officials, with observers from Commonwealth nations.

Joshua Nkomo reported numerous cases of intimidation and denial of freedom of movement to Lord Soames, who failed to act. At one time though Soames threatened to ban from the elections senior Zanu PF officials, including Enos Nkala, for making inflammatory remarks but instead of desisting from those activities the party reacted defiantly, warning it would go back to war if that happened. Some even said Soames must choose whether he wanted war or peace.

In the end, Soames did not act largely because the British were tired of the protracted Rhodesian problem and wanted out.
However, Soames after the polls did day say how bad the situation was when he remarked “I will never forget”, referring to violence and intimidation during the elections.

That is why some now say those polls set a precedent, not for free and fair elections, but for the use of violence, intimidation and ballot-rigging during elections. 

Thirty-two years later we seem no further ahead.  What was generally necessary then is still required to lay the foundation for a true democracy. Despite all the declarations and protocols, election institutes and minimum standards, despite the array of non-government organisations educating Zimbabweans and lobbying internationally, we have proceeded to 2012 without progress on the electoral front.  And the country in many respects now lies in ruins far more extensive than those returning refugees and fighters found in 1980.

Will we have another 32 years before we move forward? Some believe that if the United Nations instead of Britain had supervised the 1980 elections, the result might have been significantly different, and we might have travelled a different course as a nation. We cannot remake the past, but we can reshape our understanding of it, and learn from our mistakes and failures.

As we face the next elections and another critical transition in our history, the question is: will we have a credible and transparent electoral process or we fail ourselves again in that regard as we did in 1980? 

Mary Ndlovu is the widow of the late Edward Ndlovu, who spent his entire adult life engaged in the struggle for freedom in Zimbabwe. He was active in politics from the 1950’s as a trade unionist and during the ANC, NDP and Zapu era. Detained with other senior Zapu leaders during the civil strife in the 1980s, Ndlovu was also an MP and Deputy Minister of Energy before his death in 1989.

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