HomeOpinion & AnalysisEditor's desk: Voter secrecy only way to stop violence

Editor's desk: Voter secrecy only way to stop violence

Whenever the weak have pain, both physical and emotional, inflicted upon them by the powerful, they desire revenge. They look forward to the day they can fight back and humiliate the perpetrators of the violence.

During colonialism when the white man treated adult Africans as children by administering corporal punishment or giving them humiliating assignments to do, the Africans often fought back in ways that sought to reduce the white man’s standing among them.

 

Those who worked as domestics often spat or urinated into the white man’s drinking water and when they saw the white man looking refreshed after a long swig they felt they had fought back.

Political violence is rampant in Zimbabwe in the run-up to any election. Adult men and women particularly in the rural areas are beaten up and humiliated in front of their colleagues and their children by people young enough to be their offspring.

 

The situation is not too different in urban areas with thugs often going door-to-door terrorising people as has often been reported in Mbare, where a quasi-secret society called Chipangano is a law unto itself.

What Jabulani Sibanda, chairman of the Zimbabwe War Veterans’ Association is allegedly doing countrywide demonstrates the impunity which perpetrators of political violence enjoy. That his colleagues have voiced their concerns about his actions shows the extent to which he has humiliated people in the provinces he has worked in.

 

In Masvingo, the provincial leadership had to complain saying that Sibanda’s actions are too extreme and may turn the whole province against Zanu PF.
In normal circumstances the people of Masvingo would be itching for revenge.

 

BY NEVANJI MADANHIRE

 

They would suffer quietly until the day they would demand their pound of flesh; obviously that would be the day of the polls when they would enter the polling booths and put their X into the box that would exact revenge on their bullies. Countrywide there should be thousands upon thousands of people suffering quietly in the same predicament as the people of Masvingo.

There is an inherent contradiction in electoral violence; you beat up people in order that they vote for you! This doesn’t make sense at all especially in a situation where voting is done in secrecy. One cannot expect the people he or she has humiliated to vote for him or her. But that is what happens in Zimbabwe.

But why?
The perpetrators of violence are aware that the people they have humiliated hate them with a passion but they don’t care. Jabulani Sibanda for example knows pretty well that the people he is terrorising daily in Masvingo loathe him but he doesn’t care.

 

He knows how the philosophy of violence works: keep them in perpetual fear before elections; threaten them during elections and punish them communally after elections if some of them have voted in a way you dislike.

The most important stage of this three-pronged strategy is the second: threaten them during the polling process by reminding them that their vote is not secret; this is the fulcrum of electoral violence. This point cannot be harped on enough. If they were assured that they would vote in secrecy they would seek revenge.

It would seem civil society organisations and political parties that should harp on this until policy makers’ ears begin to ring are guilty by omission and commission for perpetuating a flawed electoral process in Zimbabwe. There are two types of electoral violence in Zimbabwe.

The first is that between small groups of members of different political parties. It happens all the time in all countries in Africa and other developing regions. This is normal and is difficult to eliminate entirely.

 

These little groups meet at townships or even communal wells and because they have failed to change the others’ thinking, they resort to fist fights. All political groupings without exception are guilty of this at one time or another.

This kind of violence can be reduced if concerted efforts are made by elders in the communities to counsel peace or if a real national healing and reconciliation strategy is put in place. This has been done successfully in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Kenya.

In Ghana, for example, reports say the United Nations worked with the government, the electoral commission, the media and civil society to ensure that the 2008 elections were peaceful. The process was an unqualified success.

The second type of violence is the obnoxious variety which is state-sanctioned. This is perpetrated by senior members of political parties in government, directly or through their proxies. These people would be protected by law enforcement agents who apply the law selectively.

 

The police in this case would descend with full wrath on certain groups while allowing other groups to inflict pain and suffering on their opponents with impunity. The country’s prosecuting authority — in our case the office of the Attorney-General — usually remains supine in the face of this. This is the kind of violence Zimbabwe has continued to experience in the past decade.

 

It is already rearing its ugly head in spite of the lull of the past two years with the deployment of military personnel into the rural areas and the reported resurrection of torture bases all over the country.

This type of violence is almost impossible to stem even if international organisations such as the UN, or in our case the Sadc, do not intervene. The only way to stop it is by removing its fulcrum or hinge, which is that people are not voting in secrecy.

 

If voters are enabled to express their free will in secrecy violence becomes entirely useless; it will, as it naturally should, turn prospective voters against perpetrators.

As we reluctantly totter towards another harmonised election, Zimbabweans must interrogate holistically the whole electoral process and identify those facets of the process that militate against voter secrecy.

The place to begin could be the whole legislation pertaining to the electoral process and the agents such as the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission that enforce the legislation. The aim would be to reinforce voter security in the polling booth so that every voter is assured there is absolutely no Big Brother watching.

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