Lack of voter education mars vote

HARARE - Waking up on Saturday morning one could have thought the referendum could be washed away with the drizzle and chilly weather.

But as the sun rose, the sky began to clear, paving way for the much-anticipated vote which turned out to be a big yawn as most Zimbabweans either boycotted or completely ignored the exercise.

Throughout the referendum and in interviews with voters, it was evident that most people had not read or even seen the draft constitution.

There was generally a lack of voter education and it seemed political parties and civic organisations concentrated mainly in towns and cities, ignoring most rural communities who constitute the biggest vote.

As we picked on our assignment, covering Beatrice, Furtherstone and Chivhu, we discovered that a number of people had ignored the vote completely citing a lack of knowledge over the referendum.

A female shopkeeper in Beatrice, only identified as Grace said while she was voting on the referendum, she had not put sight on the constitutional draft.

“Apart from the bits and pieces we hear from radio and from others, I do not know much about the draft constitution. I have never seen it and I have not seen anyone reading it here in Beatrice.

“Radios, which serve marginalised communities like ours, are no longer that many. The era of radios seems to be fading away fast as very few people own radios today. Unlike in the past, listening to radio is no longer fashionable as people are always watching DStv or playing music CDs or videos,” said Grace.

She said there were no meetings on the draft constitution she recalls taking place in her area. “Maybe the government did not have money to hold such meetings.”

At one school in Beatrice less than 50 people had voted two hours into the vote, a clear sign that voters had ignored the call to participate in the referendum vote.

An officer from the Zimbabwe Election Commission, Zec who was manning another polling station in Beatrice refused to divulge figures of voters when the Daily News crew visited.

“I can say a substantial number of people have cast their vote, but I can only give you figures if you come when we hold the final count at 7pm,” said the Zec officer dismissively.

At a polling station in Furtherstone, a similar pattern emerged with a handful of voters casting their vote by mid-day.

An elderly woman who had just voted said she had heeded President Robert  Mugabe’s call to vote “Yes” and had walked 5km to exercise her right.

“I heard on radio that we should go and vote “Yes”. I came here because President Mugabe said so otherwise I do not know what the vote means.”

Asked whether she had read the draft constitution, she said: “My children who live in Harare are always talking about the draft constitution but I do know much about it. I always listen to people talking about it on radio, but it seemed to me that there were a lot of disagreements about it. At the end I think our leaders just asked everyone to vote ‘Yes’ so that we can move forward.”

She further said this was one of the most peaceful elections she has witnessed in Zimbabwe in recent memory.

“The queues are not there and you can vote without spending much time. I hope it would be the same during the election between Mugabe and Tsvangirai. People were peaceful, unlike in the past when they beat us to political meetings.”

In Chivhu, we visited two polling stations. While we could get figures for votes cast at one polling station, the other one had Zec officers flatly refusing to release them.

The Zec officer said they had strict orders that figures in Chikomba East should not be released to anyone.

“We are under instructions not to tell you anything and you cannot also enter the voting rooms,” declared the Zec officer.

Some vendors in Chivhu said they had not gone to vote because they had nothing to vote for.

“You want me to go and vote when three quarters of the time we have no electricity and water. Those benefitting should go and vote.

“My vote, which I have been giving all these years, has not changed my life at all. In fact I have seen that the more I vote, the more I get poorer because those I vote for do little for me.”

By lunchtime, most of the polling stations were already empty and polling officers were on a day off.

“There is no one coming and for the past hour or so we haven’t served anyone,” said a polling officer in Beatrice. “Had it not been compulsory that we close at 7pm, we should be gone by now.”

From the interviews we held with a number voters, while there was consensus to the ‘Yes’ vote by both Zanu PF and MDC there was also fear that after the referendum a more robust and violent campaign might unfold.

A voter in Chivhu said people were still afraid of what happened in 2008 when those in the MDC who campaigned freely were later targeted by Zanu PF and State agencies. - Maxwell Sibanda and Thelma Chikwanha

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