Commission fails the blind

HARARE - For lawyer and visually-impaired activist Abraham Mateta, pictured, the just ended-harmonised elections that saw President Emmerson Mnangagwa ascend to power were not “free and fair”.

Mateta is not disputing the election results but raises his concern on non-compliance of Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) with constitutional provisions that provide for the right of all citizens to vote in privacy.

He told the Daily News on Sunday that when he went to cast his ballot he was allowed to have an assistant of choice but his plea to have brailed ballot seemed to have fallen on the Electoral Board’s deaf ears.

Since 2008 Mateta has not given up the fight for constitutionally-compliant voting exercise especially one that recognises the rights of persons living with disabilities.

After completing his first law degree with University of Zimbabwe in 2007, Mateta embarked on a journey of ensuring equal enjoyment of rights and made his first move in 2008, then 2013 and now towards the much-anticipated elections.

He has lodged an urgent chamber application with the High Court challenging Zec and responsible authorities to consider secrecy of the ballot, especially for visually-impaired eligible voters.

“Zec did not do anything except to allow me to get into the booth with an assistant of my choice to voice. The Sadc observer Mission has repeated what it said that the way visually-impaired people are voting is compliant with what can guarantee their right to vote in privacy.

“The Constitution guarantees the right to vote, outlaws discrimination on all grounds including disability and Zimbabwe is obliged to make sure people who are visually impaired vote in privacy.

“I am just hopeful that we can begin the processes to ensure that in the next five years we can be able to come up with a template ballot, brail ballot to ensure privacy of the visually-impaired’s vote.”

He urged the government to consider visually-impaired people in its structures arguing that “disability did not mean inability”.

“I think we are really asking for inclusion in the democratic space and it is really sad that the whole system believes that a person visually-impaired always needs assistance. You wonder if they even believe that such a person can be part of government structures if they cannot believe that a lawyer like me can do a simple thing as voting on my own.”

In his court challenge Mateta relayed how the visually-impaired had been handled in previous elections.

“In the 2008 elections the blind voted in the presence of a police officer and two other electoral officers so we challenged that and in the 2013 elections a visually-impaired voter was supposed to bring their own assistant but still a presiding officer would be present to witness whether your assistant has done everything ‘correctly’.

“…so if you look at both incidences it violates the right to secret ballot so that is the background of the challenge we have lodged with the court.

“You may want to note that there is an amendment which now says that there is no more need for the presiding officer when you are being assisted but still the fact that you are still assisted limits the secrecy of the whole procedure.”

Mateta’s argument is backed by sections 67 and 56 of the Constitution which provide for equal enjoyment of political rights and prohibit discrimination.

“The Constitution ushered in 2013 has a section on what it calls political rights, section 67 provides for all Zimbabweans above the age of 18 the right to vote through a secret ballot and this is precisely the section through which we have taken our case to court,” added Mateta.

“…that section is read with section 56 of the Constitution which prohibits discrimination on grounds that include disability.

“The fact that Zec and the ministry have not been providing this to the visually-impaired is discriminatory on grounds of disability.

“What we are looking for is a system that uses what we call a template ballot which is more like a guided system which, however, utilises an ordinary ballot paper so that you will not be using your special kind of paper but there will be a template to guide you where to place your mark as a voter.”

Human rights lawyer Marufu Mandevere echoed similar sentiments and emphasised that rights guaranteed by the Constitution must be enjoyed by every citizen.

“The right and freedom of citizens to participate in the electoral processes freely without fear or favour is guaranteed by the Constitution without discrimination, the duty to ensure that adequate facilities are provided to every citizen to exercise such rights rests on the government and all its institutions, independent or otherwise,” Mandevere said.

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