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Zimbabwean Exiles Step Up Vote Campaign

They want the SADC to force Mugabe to let them take part in key ballot.
By Zakeus Chibaya
Zimbabwean exiles are intensifying their efforts to force the Zimbabwe government to allow them to vote in the 2008 presidential election, and have vowed to put pressure on Southern African Development Community, SADC, countries to take a stand on the issue.



It is estimated that there are more than two million Zimbabweans in South Africa alone and many others live in surrounding countries, but the Zimbabwe Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that those not in Zimbabwe cannot vote in presidential elections.



The exiles say they will pressure SADC to force Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe to give exiles the right to vote. They argue that most SADC countries allow postal voting for citizens that are living in other countries. Under Zimbabwe’s electoral laws, only citizens outside their home constituencies on official national duty can cast postal votes, a requirement critics say has disenfranchised more than four million Zimbabweans.



The Zimbabwean National Constitutional Assembly, NCA, is spearheading the campaign for exiles to fight for their right to vote. It has started educational and awareness programmes to ensure that citizens understand the need for a new constitution that will give exiles the right to vote.



Tapera Kapuya, the Coordinator for NCA in South Africa, said, “The reality is that an estimated fifth of our national population is located outside the borders of Zimbabwe. They have been disenfranchised of their citizenship and statehood, and cannot be excluded from contributing to the national vision.”



It is estimated that 49,000 Zimbabweans enter South Africa each month. With inflation in Zimbabwe reaching 1,700 per cent and prices of basic commodities soaring every day, many risk death, rape and robbery as they cross into South Africa illegally. The exiles say that they are going to use this influx of Zimbabweans into South Africa to force SADC to put pressure on Mugabe to accept the exile vote.



Tichaona Mutero from Mutoko north of Harare, who fled the economic turmoil in the country, said, “We need to claim our stake as we are contributing to the country by sending foreign currency back home. There is no way the opposition can win the election without our participation and that’s why Mugabe is boasting of winning the election next year. He knows that his policies and violence has forced millions of his enemies out of the country.”



Now operating a makeshift kitchen at the Zimbabwe-bound buses terminus near Park Station in Johannesburg, Mutero has missed two consecutive elections and like many Zimbabweans, he believes his vote is crucial.



“We will fight for our rights to vote and we are now prepared to pay the supreme price: death. The SADC leaders know about the influx of Zimbabweans in their countries and they need to force Mugabe to accept postal voting. The people are now prepared to take Mugabe head on and the exiles have been keeping quiet for a long time, acting as if we are Zanu-PF [ruling party] supporters,” said Mutero.



Thompson Temba, a Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, opposition party activist from Bikita, southeast of Zimbabwe, said, “We are going to demand our right to vote. We have been silent for too long. Mugabe has brutalised and disenfranchised opposition voters but we are regrouping to claim what belongs to us. Mugabe has robbed me of my vote for the past two elections.”



Temba was a ward coordinator for the MDC but fled the country in 2001 during the by-election, which left many opposition activists brutally tortured by the late war-veteran leader, Chenjerai Hunzvi. “I know the importance of my vote to change the country and I had to fight for it. If the San people in Botswana could claim their land back, how can we fail?” he said.



Makanaka Shoko, a farm worker living near the Musina border town in South Africa, complained bitterly of his treatment at a border post during the election period.



“When I arrived at Beit Bridge [border post] at midnight, I was detained with hundreds of Zimbabweans and we were only released in the late afternoon. When I arrived in my hometown at Nembudziya, Gokwe, the polling stations had closed. Hundreds of people are prevented from voting through Mugabe’s dirty works,” he said.



Gabriel Shumba, the executive director for the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum, ZEF, said, “If countries like Mozambique and Botswana can have postal ballots and if Zimbabwe can allow diplomats postal voting there is no sense in requiring those in exile to be physically present in the country before they can register and vote.”



Shumba added that since the largely pro-Mugabe Supreme Court has rejected an earlier application by exiled Zimbabweans for their right to vote, it seems the legal route in Zimbabwe has been closed. However, ZEF is taking the case further to the African Commission on Human Peoples’ Rights in May.



The ZEF was formed in South Africa in 2003 and says it is a “non-political, non-profit and non-partisan organisation with an eye on the future of Zimbabwe”.



Kapaya said, “Zimbabweans in the Diaspora, like most people back home, may be focussed on mere survival issues and unwilling to put themselves at risk by engaging in the struggle of converting ideas into action. But if a new constitution is not crafted with speed the sitting government will continue to close the democratic space as it has total power in the country.



“Zimbabweans in the diaspora have no space in the present constitution as the dual citizenship that was scrapped by the Zimbabwean government is effectively barring a significant number of Zimbabweans from participating in the electoral processes,” he said.



A group of Zimbabwean exiles calling themselves the Diaspora Vote Action Group petitioned the Supreme Court to reverse a government policy barring exiles from casting their votes a number of years ago. Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku dismissed the application.



Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said that Zimbabweans outside the country would not be allowed to vote in any election. “The law in our situation is explicit. Citizens of Zimbabwe who are resident will be allowed to vote,” he said.



Zakeus Chibaya is an IWPR contributor.

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