OVER two million (2 062 290) voters failed to vote in the just-ended 23 and 24 August 2023 elections, according to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), which is almost a third of the total 6 691 691 registered voters.
Zimbabwe has a total population of 15.1 million (2022 Population and Housing Census preliminary report), with over half of the population being eligible to vote.
This raises concerns of the socio-economic and geopolitical barriers which stood in the way of many people’s electoral participation.
Some of the worst affected areas are mineral-rich communities, which often lag behind when it comes to civic participation, yet they are always affected by the decisions made by the status quo.
One such area is Zvishavane in the Midlands Province, which harbours mining giants such as Mimosa, Murowa Diamonds and Sabi Gold mine. It is also home of the former asbestos giant, Shabanie mine.
Zvishavane is also a hub for small-scale and artisanal mining activity as well as common gold rushes which characterise the area.
The rampant artisanal mining activities come with a lot of migration and these miners, commonly referred to as “makorokoza”, are among the most difficult groups of people to reach out to in Zimbabwe.
The miners also face accessibility challenges as they are often located deep in the forests, where there is limited access to information and services.
For 20-year-old Clotilda Zivanai, 2023 would have been her first time as a voter. She moved from Sanyati, Kadoma to Zvishavane with her husband who is a small-scale miner.
Zivanai does not have a national identity card and efforts to get the ID in Zvishavane were futile.
“I went to the registrar’s offices and I was told that I could only get documentation in Kadoma where I grew up. I could not afford to travel to Kadoma, hence I ended up not registering to vote,” she said.
Her husband also failed to register to vote because his temporary paper ID documentation was said to be invalid and he was told to get a plastic ID in Kadoma.
Zivanai and her husband were not the only ones affected by the issue of documentation.
Blessing Mwembe from Binga also moved to Zvishavane with her husband who works in a mine.
“My paper ID was torn and I was told to get a new ID. I went to the registrar in Zvishavane four times with no luck. They kept making excuses about not having ink and paper until it was past the time of registering to vote and I gave up,” she said.
Mwembe says she voted using the same ID in Binga in 2013, but could not register under the Biometric Voter Registration system which was introduced during the 2018 electoral cycle.
Last year, parliamentarians raised concerns over the issuance of temporary paper national IDs, saying they are not accepted anywhere. There were also complaints over thousands of citizens who are undocumented.
Following the complaints, the Department of the Registrar-General conducted a six-month mobile exercise issuing birth certificates and IDs countrywide.
However, it would seem that this exercise did not necessarily solve the documentation problem as in most areas people were given temporary documents which they cannot use anywhere.
Most people also failed to find their names on the voters’ roll on election day, leading to many being turned away.
Elizabeth Mlambo, an elderly citizen, moved from Manicaland Province in 1986 with her family. They currently live in Sabi vlei in Mazvihwa.
“I voted well in the primary elections but when I went to vote for the President on 23 August I could not find my name. I had gone to confirm if my name was there when the Zec teams were doing a mobile registration exercise and I was told my name was there only for me to be turned away on the day of voting,” she said.
Her granddaughter Rudo Moyana also faced a similar challenge.
“I registered during the mobile exercise and could not get a receipt slip. When I went on voting day, I could not find my name,” Moyana said.
Small-scale mining communities are also affected by poor flow of information, including that relating to electoral processes.
Most of the miners were affected by the delimitation process as they were not aware of the changes in boundaries.
Samuel Rimai, who comes from Chipinge but currently conducts small-scale mining in Zvishavane, says he and his peers changed their polling stations from Chipinge to Zvishavane but for some reason their names were not found when they wanted to vote.
“We feel like we do not belong anywhere because we are always mobile. I hope in the future there are mechanisms put in place to recognise everyone regardless of their place of origin,” said Rimai.
Midlands province, which is home to many mining communities like Zvishavane, Shurugwi, Kwekwe and Mberengwa, had a total of 840 961 registered voters.
While most people seem to have been denied their right to vote for one reason or another, they often lag behind in terms of service delivery and infrastructure development.
A lot of exploitation happens in the areas with little given back to the community, which tends to suffer from the poor resources management hence they remain the most underdeveloped areas.
“We don’t have water or toilets at our mines. We just camp there and work. We get water from a distant source and we use bush toilets making us vulnerable to all kinds of diseases,” Rimai said.