Zimbabwe: An Interview With the Deputy Minister of Justice On the Elections

| January 6, 2013 | 0 Comments

TS: Hello Zimbabwe and welcome to this week’s edition of Crisis Analysis. My name is Tichaona Sibanda and my guest on the programme today is the Deputy Minister of Justice Mr Obert Gutu. Mr Gutu is of course the spokesperson for the MDC-T representing the Harare province. Deputy Minister, welcome to the programme.

Thank you, good evening, compliments of the season.

The same to you Minister Gutu. Now this is a new year and just before we broke off for the festive season last year Minister Gutu, we heard from a meeting that you attended as well as Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai that ZEC would start, or would launch the mobile voter registration exercise on the 3rd of January which is today. Do you have anything visible to suggest that this exercise is well underway?

I have been in my office for the greater part of the day today so I’ve not really had an opportunity to go out and see and examine what exactly is happening at the various district offices where voter registration normally takes place but it is on record that the Prime Minister did direct that a massive voter registration exercise should commence in earnest today, the 3rd of January 2013 so although I haven’t been out there to find out whether this is happening.

I would like to believe that it has started, but I believe that the other problem that we will be facing is that there has been very little awareness in the sense of the public being advised.

We obviously would have expected the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to go out of its way to engage both the print and in the electronic media, conscientizing people, raising people’s awareness, particularly in the rural areas where obviously people might not get information as fast as people in urban areas do get it but I’d like to believe that maybe ZEC itself sees the problem that we are talking about, resource constraints, that they don’t have the money because this obviously will be an exercise that would require them to pay advertising costs to the various newspapers circulating in Zimbabwe and also to the radio stations in Zimbabwe and not to mention also to the sole television station that we have run by ZBC.

So I’ll say yes, the process started today but I’ll not be telling the truth if I say that there is evidence of a high activity in as far as voter registration is concerned today.

Who is in charge of this exercise? Is it ZEC or the Registrar General’s office?

It is actually the office of the Registrar General. It is the office that is directly responsible for registering voters and also for registering of course deaths and births so the situation is that the registrar of the Registrar General’s Office, when they register voters, they are supposed to do so under the supervision of ZEC because as you know in terms of our law, ZEC has the primary duty and constitutional obligation to register and/or deregister voters.

So when the Registrar General does register voters on the voters roll, he will be doing so under the direction of ZEC or rather he is supposed to be doing so under the direct supervision of ZEC. Whether that is the situation obtaining on the ground I cannot tell because the ideal situation is to have ZEC calling the shots, literally advising and instructing the Registrar General on what to do. I’m not seeing that happening on the ground but I’d like to believe that going forward, we’ll see more activity on the part of ZEC and we’ll see more cooperation from the office of the Registrar General.

TS: Why I asked you that question Senator is that we are getting reports from various areas throughout the country that people, presumably MDC-T supporters, are being denied the opportunity to register to vote next year. Have you received any reports suggesting otherwise?

OG: No we have actually received a report particularly here in Harare to say there has been a lot of difficulty especially for young voters when they like to go and register as voters because they are advised to bring all sorts of documents, like for instance proof of residence, you are advised to bring document from your landlord or from your landlady, issues like utility bills, like electricity bills or water bills and you know when you are a tenant, sometimes you have landlords or landladies who are not too comfortable giving you those kinds of documents to facilitate you registering as a voter.

So it might appear straightforward but practically, for practical purposes it is actually very difficult to register as voters here in Harare.

So I’m just imagining if it is this difficult here in an urban centre like Harare province, just imagine what difficulties people come across in the rural areas where you have to go to your local sabhuku or the headman to say can I get a small note saying that I stay in Makarike village and I have to present that document to the local voter registration officer. It is cumbersome, let’s face it.

I don’t want to believe that with this kind of approach we are going to register as many voters as we would like and I believe the best thing is really for ZEC to take into account what the Right Honourable Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai instructed them to do, to say with effect from January 3, 2013, they should go all out in each and every ward – the prime minister made it very clear – in each and every ward in Zimbabwe there must be officials from the office of the Registrar General with the specific responsibility and mandate of registering voters and just enabling those voters who are already registered to simply check whether their names still appear on the voters roll because you know that we are going to use the ward based voters role for the next elections this year.

Okay so it’s not simply going there to register but also to check if your name is still on the voters roll?

Absolutely because you find that it is very important for one to verify that they are still on the voters roll because this is not just an exercise for new voters to register, it is actually a multi-faceted exercise the way I understand it – that is, those people who have always voted, who appear on the voters roll should also take this as an opportunity to just go there and verify that yes, my name still appears on the voters role.

The process is easy because ZEC say they are now computerized. All you have to do is to tell them look this is my national registration number and they punch it into the computer; if your name still appears on the voters role once they punch your national registration or identity number into their computer system, then your full name and all your details as a registered voter will appear. Your name, the ward you are registered to vote and all that.

I understand ZEC will be having a meeting next week Senator Gutu, how far are we in as far as preparations for elections are concerned.

That’s a big question Tich, the way I look at it is look, I’m on the ground here in Harare and to be honest with you, I don’t want to think that the conditions for the holding of a free and fair election that will pass the test of legitimacy are obtained because what you see here is, if you are going to have difficulty with merely registration of voters and also the kind of difficulties that you are experiencing in holding a rally, just a few days before Christmas, the MDC Harare provincial organizing secretary Tichaona Munyanyi was locked up for about three days in the cells in Harare Central Police Station and the allegation was that he in the company of other party officials held an illegal meeting in Highfields about seven months ago, so it just gives you an idea to say look with those kind of things still happening, with those kinds of things still happening, it makes it very difficult for other parties other than Zanu PF to mobilize and hold public meetings.

I think I’ll be dreaming, I’ll be lying to you, to the listeners, if I say conditions are conducive for the holding of a free and fair election. I think we’ve got a lot of work to do.

You listen to ZBC news when they give what is supposed to be their lead news hour bulletin at 8pm every night, it is in my humble opinion, not a news bulletin it is a Zanu PF propaganda bulletin and we are saying this is an election year, are we going to have an election which going to be run along these lines and I’ll be surprised if we have an election that will be credible.

Now Senator, I’ll turn to the constitution making process and I want to borrow one of your postings from your Facebook page where you say “It’s apparent that the fascist faction in Zanu PF is determined to completely collapse the process. I don’t want to sound like the devil’s advocate but I sincerely urge all democrats to start preparing for the worst case scenario where the make-or-break elections in 2013 might be held under the Lancaster House constitution.” Can you expand more on that?

Yes, let me just associate myself with that view or with those views because I believe that when you look at the delay in coming up the agreed constitution draft it shows you that there is maybe something more to it than meets the eye Tichaona.

The way I look at it there’s obviously that fascist faction in Zanu PF who have never wanted from day one ever to have a new constitution and obviously you’ll notice that they somehow for reasons that I find very puzzling and very intriguing are having the upper hand.

We are already in the first week of January 2013 and we still haven’t agreed on a draft let alone the referendum, don’t even talk about the referendum – just the draft to say look this is the draft that we’ve agreed upon, this is the draft that we are going to take to the referendum, that hasn’t happened.

If we go back, let us retrace six seven months backwards, July 18 2012, the parties agreed on a draft. We all celebrated, I was definitely very happy to say I think a breakthrough has been reached – and then what happens a few days afterwards? There’s this whole new turn-around, you have Zanu PF coming up and saying look we now want more than 220 amendments to the July 18 2012 draft.

Simply saying that look there’s obviously some other factors happening behind the scenes, pushing for a situation where it will be virtually impossible for any serious minded democrat and patriot to agree to the kind of provisions that Zanu PF are coming up with.

I don’t see how a constitution makes sense in this country if you are going to say look we don’t want any mention of the word devolution, we don’t want any form of devolution, we want a situation where we say we don’t want any form of dual citizenship, we want a situation where you say look we don’t want a constitutional court, we don’t want an independent prosecuting authority, we want the Attorney General to continue to have this prosecuting power.

I don’t see us making any progress. This is why to this very day, I’ll be the devil’s advocate and say that there’s a real possibility that we might hold elections with the old constitution.

Now one of your friends Senator contributed on your thread and said I really don’t understand where we are going as a country. What was the point of wasting people’s time and finance on something that we are not going to use? This is a thread, I’m sure if you visit your Facebook page you might read this.

Yes I remember reading that particular comment, but like I’ve already indicated you have to look at the situation. It’s a very tricky situation and I’ll like listeners to understand. I’m not saying I’m not keen to have to have a new constitution, if anything I’m more than keen.

I would actually be absolutely disappointed, terribly disappointed if Zimbabwe was going to go for this historic make-or-break election using the old Lancaster House constitution but then we have to be realistic and say assuming that there is no agreement, assuming that there is no breakthrough we cannot obviously hang on to this inclusive government ad infinitum.

We have to look to a situation where we are going to have elections and even if we say fine the GNU is mothered and fathered by Sadc as represented by the mediator who is now President Jacob Zuma, that said, you also have to say to yourself Sadc are not going to be there to dictate to Zimbabweans what to do or what not to do.

And more particularly Sadc is not going to dictate to Zimbabweans on what constitution we should agree upon. So at the end of the day the buck stops with us as Zimbabweans.

And the situation on the ground is such that there is no agreement, we are poles apart, the north pole and the south pole, this is how far apart as we are and I don’t see how we as the MDC led by the Right Honourable Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai are going to bend over and accommodate demands made by Zanu PF.

That’s because we’ve got resolutions, we’ve got resolutions by the national council of the MDC and we all know that the national council is the highest decision-making body of the MDC in between congresses and I don’t see how those resolutions can just be ignored.

Those resolutions are binding, those resolutions are there, the last national council meeting was held in Harare on Dec 19th 2012 and it reaffirmed the earlier resolution to say we are not going to bend over backwards to accommodate the whims and fantasies of Zanu PF in the constitution-making process. So the worst case scenario is we might actually have to go to an election using the old Lancaster House constitution.

Well on that note Senator Obert Gutu thank you so much for taking your time to talk to us on our programme Crisis Analysis.

Thank you very much for having me.

You’re welcome.

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