Referendum a commitment to democracy

LAST Saturday Zimbabwe held a referendum. Our cities were crowded with observers and journalists in every hotel.

Opinion by Eddie Cross

Initially, the general consensus was that voter apathy was the order of the day and the whole thing was a bit of a waste of time and money.

When counting of the votes was finally completed, we all got a big surprise — turnout had been massive, exceeding even our most optimistic estimates.

I had thought that if we got 1,5 million votes it would have been OK — the tally actually ran to over three million, double my own estimate. The other interesting feature was the consistency — in nearly all districts the results were almost identical — varying by 1% or 2% and nearly all over 90% in favour.

However, a closer examination of the results showed that voting had actually been heavier than in the March 2008 elections. In the rural areas voting was particularly heavy and all centres reported that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) had done a great job in organising and conducting the vote.

It was of course quite simple — one ballot, one question and all you needed was to be above 18 and a current ID or passport. Queues did not develop and it was this that gave observers the sign of apathy.

Zec will now compare the outcome to the voters’ roll which has close to six million names on it, but we know that this is inflated by perhaps three million ghost voters who in fact do not exist (they are dead) or they are absent in the diaspora. By this measure, the turnout was massive and we must ask why?

My own view is that it was the idea this step was in some way the key to the next in this long road to freedom and democracy. People were told this is your future, get this done and we can then go to the next stage which is elections in mid-July.

It shows that the commitment to democracy in Zimbabwe has not diminished and this is a critical factor in the context of the upcoming electoral contest that will pit the MDC-T against Zanu PF.

A new Zec chairperson has taken over the reins and already we can sense a change. The new chair (Justice Rita Makarau) is a tough, fair-minded judge and takes over from the previous chairperson who was just not up to the task. Before she came, the vice-chairperson (Joyce Kazembe), a staunch Zanu PF supporter, had been in charge and we were not at all satisfied with the state of affairs in the commission.

With this behind us, we can now turn towards the elections. In the next four months we have to select candidates, campaign, audit the voters’ roll and get hundreds of thousands of first-time voters onto the roll as well as the many “aliens” who, for one reason or another, had been disenfranchised by a system that tried to ensure that potential MDC supporters did not vote.

Then we have to stop the system rigging the elections — something that the hardliners are still confident that they can do and get away with. We will see about that.

From my reading of the views of the voters, based on my travels around the country and talking to hundreds of ordinary people, I think that they have made up their minds. I think they are going to do just what they have done this past weekend: they are going to vote for real change and that means a new leadership.

To make matters worse for Zanu PF and hardliners in the security establishment, police do not seem to have appreciated that the environment within which they are operating is changing fast.

They banned a meeting by the president of the MDC-T (Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai) in Highfield last week on Tuesday, but have failed to investigate and arrest perpetrators of political thuggery of one kind or another and continue to arrest the innocent and ignore the criminal elements in our society.

The arrest on Sunday, with the world in Harare, of the senior legal advisor to the prime minister (Thabani Mpofu) and three of his staff, followed by the arrest of lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa is just the sort of stupidity that this entails!

To then hold the lawyer, a famous human rights lawyer for that matter, in a police cell overnight when a High Court judge had ordered her release, is yet further evidence of the arrogance and sense of impunity on the part of the police. They really think they can get away with this and show no understanding that the bus is moving.

Then there is the extraordinary situation last week when the Anti-Corruption Commission stated that it was going after three Zanu PF ministers — Nicholas Goche (Transport), Obert Mpofu (Mines) and Saviour Kasukuwere (Indigenisation). The commission, armed with a High Court search warrant giving them access to the offices of all three ministers and National Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Board, was met with resistance.

The ministers were then forced to follow the humiliating procedure of asking the courts to protect them. On the side, staff of the commission were intimidated, followed to their homes and threatened with unspecified action if they persisted in their investigations.

Zanu PF leaders who have DStv subscriptions (all of them — nobody watches ZBC TV) will be aware that a few days ago the former leadership in Senegal are being probed by anti-corruption authorities.

Right now we are all locked into the Global Political Agreement bus, destined for elections that are going to change everything and will result in the people of Zimbabwe asserting their rights and control. Tough call and none of us can stop the bus.

Cross is MDC-T MP for Bulawayo South. This article first appeared on his website www.eddiecross.africanherd.com