A HUMAN rights watchdog, the Matabeleland Institute for Human Rights (MIHR), has urged the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) to consider water and sanitation issues when preparing for forthcoming by-elections to avoid worsening the spread of cholera.
It has also emerged that Bulawayo was hit by poor sanitation problems in last year’s general elections.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa fixed 3 February 2024 as the by-election date for six vacancies created in the National Assembly following the recall of Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) legislators by self-imposed secretary-general Sengezo Tshabangu on 10 November 2023.
Legislators recalled include CCC national organiser Amos Chibaya (Mkoba North), who is also chief whip of the opposition outfit, the party’s deputy spokesperson Gift Ostallos Siziba (Pelandaba-Tshabalala), Admore Chivero (Chegutu West), Tapfumaneyi Willard Madzimbamuto (Seke), Oliver Mutasa (Zvimba East) and Stephen Chatiza (Goromonzi South).
Tshabangu this week filed a High Court application barring recalled CCC MPs from contesting in the upcoming February by-elections, in a bid to replace them with his own cronies who have been doing badly in the by-elections.
While the country is heading back to another poll, MIHR says the elections are likely to become a health hazard should Zec fail to deal with the water and sanitation problem.
“On the 14th of Dec 2023, Bulawayo City Council (BCC) adopted a 120-hour water shedding programme. So the next by-election will take place in a worse water shortage situation compared to the 48-hour scheme the August election and the 9 December by-election took place in,” MIHR coordinator Khumbulani Maphosa told The NewsHawks.
“This means that on the next 3 February by-election, Zec has an even stronger reason to consider providing water and sanitation services at polling stations because the water situation in the city of Bulawayo will have worsened.”
Findings by MIHR’s 2023 observer mission report showed serious water and sanitation problems in the previous election, which it fears are likely to be disastrous should they spill into the next elections.
“MIHR observed the 2023 harmonised elections and the Bulawayo by-election with a focus on water and sanitation in polling stations. In the harmonised elections MIHR noted that access to water and sanitation services in polling stations was a cause for concern in the city of Bulawayo as voters endured long hours in polling queues without water and sanitation services due to the city’s water shedding programme,” reads MIHR’s report.
“The issue was further raised by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) in their observation report and their focus was on welfare of election officials. In the 9 December Bulawayo by-election, MIHR managed to observe 120 polling stations in five constituencies (and 8 wards) in Bulawayo.
“The election management body (Zec) made some efforts to provide water (through alternative water containers) and sanitation services (through mobile toilets for tent polling stations), but there were glaring gaps in the attempt.”
According to the report, of the total polling stations observed 51% did not have water and the electoral officials were using alternative water containers supplied by the Bulawayo City Council.
The human rights watchdog found that while there were 39 polling stations (32.5% of the observed polling stations) which were using mobile toilets, 100% of them had one mobile toilet being used by both males and females, with each polling station having between 13 and 18 polling officials.
Of the 39 stations that were using mobile toilets, 11 (28%) had two polling stations sharing one toilet.
“This MIHR report on water and sanitation services in polling stations therefore suggests practical and implementable policy and implementation recommendations for both state/government and non-state stakeholders,” reads the report.
“Chiefly, the report suggests that Zec prioritises access to water and sanitation services in polling stations and where mobile toilets are used, each polling station should have a minimum of two sex-separated mobile toilets.”