THE Registrar-General’s Office has been caught in a vote-rigging scam, where thousands of potential voters in urban areas have been disenfranchised after failing to get national identity documents to enable them to register for the 2018 general election.
By Hazel Ndebele
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) had registered 5 021 295 people as of 4pm on January 21, but the number could have been much higher, had many people not been turned away.
A snap survey by the Zimbabwe Independent this week showed that hundreds of citizens were being turned away at registration centres by officials from the RG’s Office. The officials are emphasising that they can only serve a limited number of people per day owing to a shortage of resources. Most centres were serving between 20 and 40 people daily while turning away hundreds.
When the Independent visited the Kuwadzana mobile registration centre in Harare on Tuesday this week, more than 200 people could be seen queuing in an attempt to get national identity documents. The officials only served 40 people and told the rest to “try their luck” the next day.
Misheck Moyo, a resident of Warren Park suburb, said he visited the Kuwadzana sub-office about 10 times, but still failed to get a national identity document.
“I think I have come here about 10 times but each time I am given an excuse. The first time I came in the afternoon and I was told they only give out IDs in the morning. I came the following day at 10am and I was told I should be here by 8am. When I came at 8am, they told me they served those who had been in the queue by 7am,” Moyo said.
“Today, they are saying they do not have resources and can only serve a limited number of people. The process is very frustrating.”
The officers at Kuwadzana said there was nothing they could do to assist the scores of people as they were instructed to serve a maximum of 40 due to shortages of material which includes stationery.
At Makombe Building in central Harare, where the RG’s offices are housed, as well as at Market Square, hundreds of people were being turned away daily despite having everything required for registration. The situation was the same at Machipisa in Highfield.
Officials insisted they could serve a limited number of people because of the unavailability of resources.
The RG’s Office rolled out a three-month mobile registration exercise for national identity cards and birth and death certificates in September last year as part of preparations for the voter registration exercise.
Registrar-General Tobaiwa Mudede implored aspiring voters to obtain machine-readable plastic national identity cards to be used for Biometric Voter Registration (BVR). The mobile registration exercise was supposed to end in November last year but was extended for another two months and ended on January 31. The voter registration exercise ends on February 8.
Civil society organisations (CSOs) have expressed concern over the delay in the issuance of identity documents, suspecting it could be an attempt to frustrate and suppress potential votes for the opposition, especially in urban areas. Sources close to the exercise said it was so grossly underfunded that even stationery was unavailable.
“Citizens would simply be told to come back after a certain period to collect their documents. A backlog would then be created due to the shortage of stationery and equipment. Clearly those who had their details taken and were told to come back might not even get their identity documents before the BVR deadline,” the source said.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) has taken the matter up after a civil society group, Election Resource Centre (ERC), reported that failure for citizens to acquire identity documents is a violation of human rights. ZHRC executive secretary Makanatsa Makonese wrote a letter to Mudede dated January 26 to express concern after some citizens sought help.
“The ZHRC has received a complaint from Ennet Makurumure and others against the Registrar-General, alleging the following: On the 26th of January 2018, with the assistance of ERC, they visited your offices at Makombe Building wishing to acquire National Identity documents. However, they were not assisted as staff at your offices stated that they had reached their daily target and could not assist them,” Makonese said.
“They have on several occasions visited your offices at Market Square and Machipisa but have not been assisted. They require these documents as a matter of urgency as they wish to register as voters in the ongoing BVR process currently taking place.
May you kindly assist the complainants by ensuring that they get national identity documents as a matter of urgency.”
Makonese stated that the complainants said Mudede’s conduct amounts to an act of maladministration in that he has neglected or failed to take action within a reasonable time and this is affecting their enjoyment of rights as enshrined in the Constitution of Zimbabwe amendment number 20 Act 2013.
ERC officials told the Independent that Mudede promised to assist the affected persons, but as of Wednesday, when the exercise finished, the majority had not been assisted.
“Where ERC went on Wednesday there were 243 people in need of national identity cards and of that number only 48 were given IDs and 63 managed to get birth certificates. 45 people were orphans who did not have any relatives or witnesses and then the remaining 111 had special cases of either losing their identity cards or having defaced identity cards so they were given letters and referred to other centres like Market Square,” ERC officer Moses Chibaya said.
When contacted for comment, Mudede said he was in a meeting. He referred questions to his personal assistant who requested them in writing but had not responded by the time of going to print.
ERC executive director Tawanda Chimhini said his organisation was extremely worried about the matter and suspected that it could be an attempt to disenfranchise urban voters.
“We pushed that the matter be addressed by Mudede and the ZHRC has written a letter to him to say that denying one to access his/her national identity documents is violating their human rights,” Chimhini said.
“ERC went to Makombe Building and I tell you only 20 people were being served per day and that is deplorable! Moreover, there is a backlog of about three months. We end up speculating that this is an attempt to suppress the urban vote and those in the southern region while in other areas mobile registration process continues unhindered.”
Chimhini said his organisation had compiled a list of close to 100 people whom they wanted assisted by the RG’s office.
“The list of names which went to the RG’s office with the ZHRC letter is not a reflection of how many people want identity documents because the number is much bigger. The numbers keep increasing because the BVR exercise is about to come to an end.
We are saying this issue has to be addressed as a matter of urgency and people should not suffer in silence,” he said.