HARARE - The Daily News yesterday unearthed a massive election rigging scandal as millions trooped to polling stations in Zimbabwe’s harmonised election.
As thousands of voters braved the early morning chill across country to queue hours before poll booths opened, just after 7am local time, our investigations team lifted the lid on electoral fraud that ended with a team of 20 Zanu PF youths being detained at Hatfield Police Station for distributing fake voter registration slips.
Both the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) and the MDC confirmed the scam.
Zec deputy chairperson Joyce Kazembe told a late night press conference: “Yes we have received that report, we have instituted investigations. But the issue of credibility, 20 (voters) out of the millions who have voted? I think you have to figure out for yourself."
“Probably when you talk about the issue of are there other people who would have voted with such slips, but we will cross the bridge when we reach there. As of now investigations are underway.”
But Biti said this was widespread across the country. He said: “This confirms all what we have been saying. This is cruel and blatant rigging and we will not allow this to pass. Let me express my gratitude to the Daily News who helped us expose this matter when during their investigations, they phoned us for comment and we immediately raised alarm with Zec and police reports were made.”
In the rigging plot unearthed by the Daily News, the newspaper’s investigations team discovered that the Zanu PF parliamentary aspirant for Hatfield Acie Lumumba, somehow had thousands of voter registration slips which were being distributed to unemployed youths, vagrants and many other youths bussed from Highfield, Mufakose, Mbare and other high density suburbs around Harare.
At a polling station in Gunhill, hundreds of police recruits who came in Zupco buses could be seen queuing to vote at the corner of Borrowdale Road and Churchill Avenue way after ordinary people had finished voting.
Zanu PF took advantage of Zec’s announcement that all those who were not on the voters’ roll but who had registration slips could vote. But somehow, some prospective Zanu PF candidates managed to get hold of the Zec registration slips.
The scandal only broke out after the Daily News phoned MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti to check if his party was aware of the scam well before he addressed the party’s press conference in the afternoon.
Soon after, the MDC raised alarm basing on information from the Daily News, leading to the arrest of at least 20 youths who reportedly confessed to the vote fraud.
Said one of the youths who spoke to the Daily News: “They recruited us from across Harare while some were shipped from nearby farms and rural areas. Buses spent 24 hours since Tuesday bringing in youths who were being paid at least $10 each and there was lots of food and drink.
“The people behind the fraud recruited more than 10 people who were issuing us with registration slips which were being backdated. They spent the whole night issuing the slips but we don’t know whether they are fake or genuine but the bottom line is they had thousands of them.
“People didn’t sleep and by morning thousands had been issued and we voted. The people behind this were phoning others throughout the country that the project was a resounding success and they were already celebrating,” said the youth.
Further investigations by the Daily News discovered that the same tactic was being used in Gwanda, Epworth, Harare South and Mount Pleasant.
The fresh-faced Lumumba is squaring off against Tapiwa Mashakada, minister of Economic Planning and Investment Promotion.
When the Daily News crew arrived at Hatfield Police Station, the alleged vote riggers had been stripped of their shoes and were being shoved into the holding cells.
Mashakada said the fraud was unearthed after thousands of fraudsters had voted.
“When we were alerted to what was happening, it was too late, the elections had already progressed,” he said.
“My agents also heard some youths calling their colleagues to come and get their voting slips.”
Genuine slips are marked “certificates of registration as a voter” and are only issued by the Zec to bonafide voters.
The arrested youths were distributing their slips from a truck registration number ABP 7244 and another BMW registration number ACA 6699 both of which have since been impounded by the police.
Mashakada said the election fraud that was discovered in his constituency could only be a tip of the iceberg.
“I was advised by some of my party’s agents that the same activities have been happening in Msasa and other places across the country,” he said.
“This is a syndicate of some 6 000 people according to those who have been arrested.”
The youths admitted to police they had been sent by Lumumba to distribute the slips to as many people as possible and that the slips had been printed on the night of July 30 in Newlands.
Lumumba yesterday distanced himself from the scam. Asked what he was doing at the police station if he had nothing to do with the scandal, he claimed that he only came after he had been informed that people claiming to be his party cadres had been arrested.
Lumumba, who was driving his branded campaign vehicle well within 100 metres of a polling station in blatant violation of the Electoral Act, was recently dismissed from Star FM together with Tichafa Matambanadzo after they were fingered in a fraud case involving Hamtech and Onesay Investments respectively.
As Zimbabweans queued up — in their millions — there is an “uneasy calm” about this harmonised plebiscite.
Even though President Robert Mugabe has assured the world that he will step down if he loses, a naysayers’ feeling or sentiment abounds given Zanu PF’s 2008 intransigence.
This followed the octogenarian leader’s trouncing by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
With authoritative agencies such as Thomson-Reuters and Mugabe himself describing this crucial poll as a “knife-edge”, and “do-or-die”, respectively, the chaos leading up to this key event — epitomised by the unavailability of the voters’ roll until yesterday — means Zimbabwe is headed for a disputed election.
Tsvangirai yesterday said the voters’ register had been rigged, a claim that Mugabe rejected yesterday.
“I’m sure people will vote freely and fairly,” Mugabe told reporters after casting his ballot in a school in Harare’s Highfield township.
“There’s no pressure being exerted on anyone.”
Tsvangirai however, expressed confidence that he would win “quite resoundingly”.
“This is a very historic moment for all of us,” he said.
“We have come to complete the change we have always fought for,” he said.
“It is an emotional moment for me but I am filled with a sense of calmness.”
Biti told a news conference that Zanu PF was rigging elections by printing its own voter registration slips which they were dispersing in Hatfield and other parts of the country.
Among other inconsistencies were poor polling stations’ planning, irregularities with the ballot papers and anomalies on the voters’ roll.
“The number of persons being turned away is worrying, at Tafara Primary in Ward 46 by 12pm, 260 people had voted while 130 had been turned away,” Biti said.
“Wrong polling stations are being placed in wrong wards. Tafara Primary in Ward 19 is serving people in Ward 46, and there are many instances of this.
“Thousands of people are being disenfranchised and all this is connected to the shenanigans around the voters’ roll. If the voters’ roll had been available, people would have checked and avoided the current fiasco.”
He said the party had received numerous reports of teachers and other learned people being assisted to vote in rural areas.
“Another worrying development is the high number of people being assisted to vote despite the high literacy rate in Zimbabwe, in Mashonaland Central, Muzarabani,” Biti said.
“Even all this time if you are literate, but on voting day you are told to claim you are not so that you can assisted by Zanu PF people.”
Biti said some of the elementary mistakes made by Zec were appalling, with particular mention of misplacing pictures of candidates on the ballot papers.
“In Chipinge South, our candidate Meki Makuyana and Zanu-Ndonga candidate Tagarira Kumbula, when they printed the ballot papers they put Makuyana’s face on where Kumbula face should be and vice-versa, and so people are confused, we asked that voting be stopped but some continued with the voting,” Biti said.
“How in this day and age of ICT does one make that elementary mistake, is it a genuine mistake?
“In Zvishavane, about 300 ballot papers were found which contained different serial numbers dispatched there,” he said.
Biti said his party was concerned that security forces who voted in the special vote might have voted twice as their names were not crossed out from the voters’ roll, while some had their names crossed out when they did not vote.
He also made allegations of possible swopping of ballot boxes, since some ballot papers’ serial numbers were duplicated.
Rita Makarau, the Zec chairperson, admitted that some officers were disenfranchised.
“We are investigating how some police officers had their names cancelled when they did not vote. We have at least five cases that we are dealing with at the moment,” Makarau said.
The Zec chairperson said the commission had also received a number reports of people assisted to vote from rural areas under the guise that they were illiterate.
“This is a worry to us as to why such an increase, we are also investigating that,” she said.
Although Makarau could not give exact numbers of people who had voted by midday, she said a high turnout was recorded in Harare and some parts of Mashonaland Central.
Generally, there was a high number of people being assisted to vote in the rural areas, while in Hurungwe traditional leaders shepherded their subjects to polling stations and told them to cram the serial numbers on the ballot papers.
Several police officers had their names cancelled on the voters’ roll even though they had not cast their ballot in the special two-day special election on July 14 and 15.