Although it is difficult to come up with an accurate figure, the International Organisation for Migration office estimates that four million Zimbabweans are living abroad. While their rights to vote are enshrined in the Zimbabwean constitution, most are unable to do so as the Electoral Act excludes diaspora voting.
THE Diaspora Vote Initiative is a non-partisan group of Zimbabweans living in the diaspora who want to vote during Zimbabwe’s elections. People from other Southern African Development Community (Sadc) countries such as Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa allow their citizens living abroad to vote in national elections, and other countries are working towards putting in place mechanisms to allow their citizens living in the diaspora to vote.
Item 1(2) of the Fourth Schedule of the constitution of Zimbabwe states: “The Electoral Law may prescribe additional residential requirements to ensure that voters are registered on the most appropriate voters roll, but any such requirements must be consistent with this Constitution, in particular with section 67.”
Aware that Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa had announced his commitment to work towards implementing the diaspora vote by 2023, we wrote to the President on 15 April 2022 reminding him of his 2018 commitment, asking what progress had been made to implement the diaspora vote, requesting to know the challenges, if any, faced in fulfilling the commitment, and offering to help if we could.
There was no response.
After our letter, there were media reports contradicting President Mnangagwa’s commitment to implementing the diaspora vote. Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs minister Ziyambi Ziyambi told Parliament that there would be no diaspora vote. According to him, the constitution has to be amended to allow the diaspora vote.
In our view, it is not necessary to amend the constitution to allow the diaspora vote, because Item 1(2) of the Fourth Schedule of the constitution of Zimbabwe specifically states that “the Electoral law may prescribe additional residential requirements to ensure that voters are registered on the most appropriate voters roll, but any such requirements must be consistent with this constitution, in particular with section 67.”
The Electoral Act can be amended to enable polling stations to be created in the country of residency of diaspora voters.
All the same, if a constitutional amendment was necessary, parliament should have moved to make the amendment. But even if the minister’s interpretation of the constitution is right, the constitution is not cast in concrete and can be amended. It has been amended by parliament before, to remove the running mate clause, and to include proportional representation youth parliamentary seats.
Zanu PF’s secretary for finance and former acting commissar, Patrick Chinamasa, said the diaspora vote would only take place after sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe had been removed. It should be noted that it is not the Zimbabweans living in the diaspora who have caused sanctions to be imposed on Zimbabwe, so sanctions should not be used as an excuse to deny us our right to vote.
Deliberate attempt to violate the right to vote
The contradictions that have come from officials of the ruling party indicate a deliberate attempt to violate our right to vote, as enshrined in the constitution. We believe if there is the will to grant the diaspora vote, as the president led the world to believe, the process to amend the Electoral Act or constitution would have commenced immediately after the announcement.
After getting no response to our letter to the president, we petitioned the parliament of Zimbabwe on 8 September 2022, praying for Parliament to make legislative and/or constitutional amendments to enable us to vote.
Again, there was no response.
After submitting our petition to Parliament, we came across members of another group of Zimbabweans who had, in May 2021, submitted a similar petition to Parliament. More than a year later, Parliament has not moved to take the necessary steps to ensure the diaspora vote will be possible in 2023, in line with President Mnangagwa’s expressed commitment.
It appears, then, that some elements in parliament are determined to suppress our right to vote, and we have to fight hard and expose this corruption in parliament, to ensure that our vote is granted.
Petition to Mnangagwa
On 26 September 2022, we petitioned President Mnangagwa in accordance with section 59 of the constitution of Zimbabwe, which grants citizens the freedom to demonstrate and to petition authorities peacefully.
There has been no acknowledgement of receipt of the petition.
Snubbed by Parliament and by the President, we have approached Sadc, through the chairperson of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Affairs, for intervention. We wrote to the current chairperson, President Hage Geingob, on 30 September 2022 inviting intervention.
We view the failure to at least acknowledge our correspondence to President Mnangagwa, and our petitions to Parliament and the President, as deliberate efforts to deny us the diaspora vote. The president should have used his executive authority to get the minister of Justice to look into the necessary amendments.
While Mnangagwa and Parliament snubbed us, the President and many government officials acknowledge the critical role that the diaspora can play in national development.
The President has penned an article titled, “None but ourselves”, published in the Sunday Mail of 20 March 2022, in which he acknowledges diaspora Zimbabweans’ “repertoire of top skills and competencies”, and how these Zimbabweans “remain connected to and engaged with their homeland”.
President Mnangagwa has correctly pointed out that diaspora remittances have surpassed the US$1 billion mark, making the Zimbabwean diaspora community “a veritable factor in national development — indeed, a force for greater good”.
In the Sunday Mail article, President Mnangagwa described the diaspora as “equal to, and just as important and as deserving” as the Zimbabwean citizens based in Zimbabwe.
If the diaspora is “equal to, and just as important and as deserving” as described by the President, it is baffling why our approaches to his office and to parliament have been ignored.
Diaspora support is relied on during critical times. An article by Farai Marapira posted on the Zanu PF website quotes President Mnangagwa as saying:
“In view of the ongoing Covid-19 related National Lockdown and following concerns from users of money transfer services, I have now directed the Governor of Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to immediately address constraints around this essential financial service…
“The new environment arising from the National Lockdown has increased our people’s dependence on remittances which also have the added advantage of reaching directly the most marginalized numbers of our nation.
“Because of the necessary National Lockdown, livelihoods in the informal sector have been disrupted, thus forcing many households to depend on the support from their loved ones abroad. It is thus critical for our financial services institutions to adapt their operations to the new emergency situation.”
The government has announced it is finalising modalities for the establishment of a diaspora bond for Zimbabweans in the diaspora to contribute to national development. Ironically, government institutions do not move with speed to put in place modalities for the diaspora vote.
The authorities in Zimbabwe responsible for elections must act with urgency to ensure that Zimbabweans living in the diaspora are accorded their right to vote — 2023 is possible.
About the writer: Padmore Kufa writes in his capacity as spokesperson for the Zimbabwe DiasporaVote Initiative. He can be reached by email on: [email protected]–Daily Maverick.