By Alex Bell
18 March 2013
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) remains under fire for its failures to accredit key civil society organisations for the referendum, which took place on Saturday.
Last week the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) had to seek legal intervention because of ZEC’s refusal to accredit the group, on the basis that it was being investigated by the police. This resulted in a court order that allowed ZimRights to reapply for accreditation at the last minute on Friday. But by the end of the Saturday referendum, no decision had been made.
This was the same situation for the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), whose director Jestina Mukoko is also being investigated in the wake of a police crackdown on civic groups.
Dr. Solomon Zwana from the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) said the referendum process has been marred by a crackdown witnessed in the weeks leading up to Saturday’s vote. He warned that this is a sign of things to come before a general election.
“The treatment of civil society by the police paints a picture of what we can expect ahead of the elections, unless there is a serious change and commitment to allowing civic groups to perform their duties,” Zwana said.
Media individuals and organisations have also reacted strongly to difficulties placed in their path by ZEC’s policy towards them. According to the Constitution Watch series published by Veritas, media professionals were required to obtain double accreditation from both ZEC and the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC), a move described as ‘pointless’. At the same time ‘exorbitant’ ZEC accreditation fees were imposed on foreign media. According to Veritas the cost to foreign correspondents would have been in excess of US$60,000 together with the required ZMC fee.
“As the administrative costs involved in accreditation cannot amount to anything like this amount, this requirement seems unreasonable,” the Constitution Watch report said.
Another hurdle facing some media professionals was the need to be cleared by the Ministry of Information, as a pre-requisite to accreditation. One journalist from the Voice of America office in Johannesburg was denied clearance by the Ministry.
There were also hurdles for ordinary Zimbabweans too, many of whom were turned away for either not having the right documents to vote or being considered ‘aliens’. During the day, referendum observers took to social media platforms like Twitter to report on the numbers of people being turned away from polling stations.
This trend was reported across the country, with the bulk of people being barred on the basis that they are Zimbabwean citizens of foreign descent. This included noted Zimbabwean author Cathy Buckle, who was turned away for being ‘alien’.
The Centre for Community Development in Zimbabwe (CCDZ), which conducted observer missions across the country, said in a post-referendum report that “the issue of ‘aliens’ remains topical and it is believed that if the new Charter is adopted the people classified as ‘aliens’ will have full citizenship rights restored including their suffrage right so that they are not excluded in future elections.”
But CCDZ Director Phillip Pasirayi told SW Radio Africa that this might be unlikely in the future, because the ‘alien’ issue is such a sensitive, political one. He said that there will be “so much political bickering around this issue before the general elections.” He added that it is “very important that this gets sorted out” ahead of the next poll.