Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

'Zombie' Voters Key to Poll Outcome

Authorities' expected manipulation of votes of people registered twice or known to be dead likely to secure ZANU PF triumph.
By Josephine Ushe

Zimbabweans waited in long lines on March 31 to vote in their country’s sixth parliamentary election, knowing that two factors beyond their control could decide the nation’s fate – the so-called “zombie vote” and President Robert Mugabe’s personal power to appoint one in every five members of parliament without an electoral test.


Some 5.7 million adults in a total population of 11.5 million people - excluding 3.5 million political and economic refugees outside Zimbabwe’s borders - are registered to vote. But between one and two million of those voters, according to different estimates, are zombie voters, people known to be dead or who have been registered twice.


Opposition politicians and human rights organisations, who were denied the right to inspect the voter registration lists by the ruling ZANU PF government, believe it is these phantom ballots that will be most spectacularly manipulated by Mugabe’s officials to secure a ZANU PF victory.


Among those registered to vote on March 31 are Richard Tichaona Chiminya, Talent Mabika and David Stevens. But all three are dead, and their terrible deaths were widely reported in the international media. The opposition, for certain, will not be able to cast Chiminya’s, Mabika’s and Stevens’ votes because all the election officials are ZANU PF and military loyalists appointed by Mugabe.


Amnesty International reported that Chiminya and Mabika were activists for the opposition MDC killed by top ZANU PF officials in 2002 during a presidential election campaign.


The Amnesty report, entitled “The toll of impunity”, said the red Mazda truck in which the two MDC men were traveling near the town of Buhera was waved down by an official of the Central Intelligence Organisation and a leader of the ZANU PF-orientated War Veterans Association. The Mazda truck was doused in petrol and set ablaze: Chiminya and Mabika were burned to death. Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa quashed the prosecution of the two assailants. “The CIO officer alleged to be one of the killers remains on active duty,” said the human rights organisation.


Stevens was one of the first white farmers to die at the hands of ZANU PF activists when Mugabe authorised by decree the invasion of white-owned farms throughout Zimbabwe. Stevens’ “Arizona Farm” outside the small town of Marondera was invaded by Mugabe’s war veterans who drove the farmer’s workers from their homes on the property. Stevens was then taken into deep bush where he was beaten with rocks, sticks and metal rods before being executed with a bullet through the back of his head.


The MDC estimates that there are only 3.2 million genuine voters on the electoral rolls – which means, if true, that, besides Stevens, Mabika and Chiminya, there are another 2.5 million zombie voters. A more conservative estimate, by political scientists at the University of Zimbabwe, is that they total just over one million – enough, if votes are cast for them, to swing the election decisively.


FreeZim Support Group, an Harare-based democracy advocacy organisation, won a court action last October which enabled its officials to remove three truckloads of pages containing voters’ names. An analysis of 7000 names of dead people in 14 constituencies discovered that nearly 5,500 were still on the rolls.


In the two major cities voting on March 31 proceeded peacefully compared with the last parliamentary election in 2000 when there was widespread violence in which many people died or were maimed for life. The situation in the countryside is unclear, but there was one confirmed serious attack by ZANU PF activists on a young woman election observer from a South African church group.


South African parliamentary observer Roy Jankielson, an MP for the opposition Democratic Alliance, said the woman, whose name is known to the DA, was indecently assaulted and robbed by six ZANU PF men who boarded a bus carrying observers and other passengers between Harare and Marondera. “They forced everyone on the bus to chant ZANU PF slogans,” said Jankielson. “The South African woman was singled out as she does not speak the local [Shona] language . She was assaulted and robbed by the young men. The matter has been reported to the South African embassy in Harare.”


Although violence is hugely reduced compared with previous elections, Zimbabweans were still casting their votes in an atmosphere of sufficient fear that exit polls typical of most modern democratic elections were impossible.


The outcome is so uncertain that diplomats and analysts are predicting multiple post-election scenarios – from only 35 of the 120 elected seats for the MDC to 85. To secure a majority, the MDC needs to win 76 of the 120 elected seats, because Mugabe appoints 30 people directly as MPs.


In 2000, the MDC won 57 seats, a surprisingly strong showing in its first election contest.


“This is an election where I think any result is possible,” said Brian Kogoro, chairman of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, a network of civil society organisations.


But a western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “If this was a free and fair process, there would be an MDC tidal wave. The biggest concern is a manipulation of the voter rolls. A lot of tombstones will be voting.”


Josephine Ushe is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.