ZIMBABWE Electoral Commission chairperson Justice Priscila Chigumba has lost trust in the seven commissioners who rebelled against her in the delimitation report exercise, with the latest indication being the removal of commissioners Jasper Mangwana and his deputy Catherine Mpofu from their roles as spokespersons of the election management body.
In a startling development on Thursday, Chigumba relieved the two of their duties as spokespersons, allocating the role to herself, her deputy Rodney Simukai Kiwa and Zec’s chief elections officer Utloile Silaigwana.
Mangwana and Mpofu are among the seven commissioners who dissociated themselves from the draft delimitation report which Chigumba submitted to President Emmerson Mnangagwa in December last year, whose final has since been gazetted.
“In terms of the Electoral Act and by the operations of law and virtue of condition of service, oath of office and Zec public relations and communications policy of 2020, the following three officials are statutorily designated to be spokespersons of Zec: chairperson Justice P M Chigumba, deputy chairperson Ambassador R Kiwa, chief elections officer Mr U Silaigwana,” Justice Chigumba said in a Press statement.
“In light of the above, members of the public and the electorate are hereby advised that with effect from February 20, 2023, the above-mentioned three people are the exclusive spokespersons of Zec. As Zec chairperson, I undertake to respond to any query within 72 hours of its receipt.”
In a subtle response on Twitter, Mangwana said “Vanemibvunzo vekubata avo (Those with questions, contact the people below),” and attached to his tweet a picture of Chigumba’s Press statement.
The other five commissioners who rebelled against Chigumba are Abigail Millicent Mohadi-Ambrose, Jane Mbetu Nzvenga, Kudzai Shava, Rosewita Murutare and Shepherd Manhivi.
The seven wrote to President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Parliament rejecting the draft delimitation report submitted to the President in December.
Mangwana was appointed Zec spokesperson in March last year, taking over from Joyce Kazembe, while Mpofu was appointed his deputy soon after her appointment as Zec commissioner in September the same year.
The NewsHawks can report that these recent raptures at Zec reveal how Chigumba has lost trust in fellow commissioners, thus choosing to work closely only with those she feels toe her line.
The development however has a major dent on the coming general elections which Zec is required to run professionally.
Recently after a meeting of Mnangagwa, Chigumba, Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi, permanent secretary Virginia Mabhiza and Central Intelligence Director-General Isaac Moyo, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga was tasked to deal with Zec infighting.
Mnangagwa gave Chiwenga two weeks to deal with the problems and come up with a lasting solution. Chiwenga asked the Chigumba and Mabhiza factions to bury the hatchet during their meeting, but they resorted to accusations and counter-accusations. This showed him he has his work cut out for him.
Political analyst Professor Stephen Chan yesterday told The Newshawks that the deepening crisis at Zec is likely to worsen in the short term.
“The Zec contains within it differing opinions as to how best to go forward. I expect volatility within the Zec to continue at least in the short to medium term,” he said.
Political analyst Rashweat Mukundu concurred that the reshuffle in Zec’s communications department by Chigumba had more to do with re-asserting her authority than seeking to make the electoral body efficient.
“Well, I don’t think the removal of Jasper Mangwana as the spokesperson of Zec has anything to do with the chairperson wanting Zec to be more efficient and accountable, rather it is the extension of internal squabbles and fights within Zec itself.”
“We should not read too much into this, these are internal Zanu fights that have nothing to do with a transparent election. In any case, the 2023 election is already lost in terms of credibility, because of the chaos on the delimitation report, in which there is a clear indication that Zec is seeking to disenfranchise millions of Zimbabweans and favouring Zanu PF and maximising in what it perceives to be Zanu PF strongholds by increasing constituencies there.”
“So these fights that we are seeing —with emphasis on who the spokespersons of Zec are — have nothing to do with transparency and accountability but more of Chigumba seeking to re-assert her authority amidst a revolt by other commissioners who are questioning her capacity and lack of transparency,” he said.
While Chigumba is seemingly putting her foot down to run the next elections, in her meetings with Mnangagwa she reportedly demanded that Ziyambi and Mabhiza should pressure Tonderai Chidawa — implying he was their proxy — to drop his Constitutional Court application seeking invalidation of the delimitation process.
The case, which the ConCourt recently ruled was not urgent, has been set for 29 March. Chidawu, in his application supported by two Zec commissioners Catherine Mpofu and Shepherd Manhivi, says Parliament acted unconstitutionally by allowing a debate on a report written solely by Chigumba and her deputy Rodney Simukai Kiwa, while it was rejected by seven of the nine Zec commissioners.
The Zec chair is still facing internal upheaval and unrest by the majority of commissioners who said she wrote the report with Kiwa – and some say with the involvement of the Central Intelligence Organisation as well — and wanted it abandoned.