Dear Family and Friends,
An hour after voting began in the constitutional referendum on the 16 the March 2013, I went to the nearest polling station . It was a cool and overcast morning and despite the central location in an urban area there were no cars outside the school and only three people in the queue ahead of me. As I waited my turn to go inside I thought back thirteen years to when I’d last voted in a constitutional referendum. That was in February 2000, before land invasions and economic meltdown, before farm takeovers and a decade of political violence and power struggles. Thirteen years ago there had been about a hundred people waiting to vote in the quiet rural area when the polling station nearest our farm opened.
What a very different picture it was all these years later. It seemed to be taking a long time to process just three people ahead of me and when my turn came to go in, it got a lot longer. My ID card, a small plastic rectangle about the size of a business card was checked by a woman at the door and I was shown to the first official desk. A young man looked at my ID card for a long time before he beckoned to the first woman and whispered to her. She looked at my ID card again and whispered to someone else. I got out the photocopy of my birth certificate proving I was a born Zimbabwean and a copy of my latest electricity bill proving I was locally resident. By now three electoral officials were studying my ID and other documents and whispering. Finally they decided I had to go to officials sitting at a long table at the far end of the school hall and show them my ID card.
First one official and then another studied my ID card closely. Again I took out my birth certificate and electricity bill but they weren’t happy. Then I pulled out my trump card, a full page advertisement from the newspaper dated one day before. The advert had been placed by COPAC the Constitutional Select Committee. This was the very organization that had just spent four years drafting the constitution and COPAC gave reasons in the advert why people from all different walks of life should vote YES in the referendum including women, youths, elderly, disabled, workers, war veterans and members of the media. The last entry on their full page advert said: ‘Why Aliens should Vote YES’ and the answer beneath the question read:
“they will now be eligible to vote.”
“If COPAC are calling on Aliens to vote YES, surely I should be allowed to vote?” I asked. The newspaper advert was studied closely, the date of the paper was checked and it’s fair to say that the two women officials, were as confused as I was.
“Why does your ID say Alien?” one asked.
“Because my mother was not born in Zimbabwe I replied.”
At that point I could have simply walked out but I waited patiently while the officials entered my name and details onto a ‘voters denied register.’
Standing outside the polling station were two SADC election observers.
They asked me if something was wrong. They were as bemused and confused as everyone else when I showed them my papers and said I hadn’t been allowed to vote. Here was a born, resident, tax- paying Zimbabwean classed as an Alien and not allowed to vote because her parents had been born in another country.
Nine days before the referendum ZEC, (the Zimbabwe Electoral
Commission) who were running the election today, had published a full page newspaper advert inviting emailed queries from people about the election. I had emailed them querying my eligibility but they didn’t bother to reply which was why I had bothered to go through this whole rigmarole at the polling station today. ‘Maybe next time?” I said to the election officials as I left. She smiled and agreed. Until next time, thanks for reading love cathy.