The Right to Vote
In 1949 I stood at the fence of my school and watched hundreds of
march past with banners and making a great deal of noise. The Police
Army were all over the place - I thought it was very exciting. It was
start of the struggle in this country for the right to vote.
It started with Rhodes who said in a document that he wanted "every
civilized man to have the right to vote". Who was a "civilized man" - a
who had some education and owned some property". It was the first
of what became known as the qualified franchise. This was applied, more
less, up to 1964 when it was finally abandoned for a racially defined
to vote. This excluded the great majority of people from the voters
The African Nationalist leaders had never been in favor of the
franchise. They knew that when this threatened the hold on power of the
white minority, the standard would simply be raised and ambitions
What they demanded was "one man, one vote." This was the strident
the NDP, then Zapu and then Zanu. It was the rallying cry of the
war; it defined the principal objectives of the struggle for power.
This past week, the Chief Justice of Zimbabwe, sitting with a full
the Supreme Court, said that the right to vote was not a fundamental
of a citizen. This was in response to a Court challenge brought by
living outside Zimbabwe who want to vote in the forthcoming election.
Court reserved its judgment.
So now it is out in the open - the universal suffrage that tens of
gave their lives for in 30 years of struggle was a sham. All they
power, the right to use the State to plunder the resources of the
and to impoverish the people.
But while we may reel at such a statement, it is the lengths to which
self-serving leaders will go to preserve their hold on power that
me. I was part of the transition team in 1980, helping with the
from the Rhodesian era to the new Zimbabwean State. We ran the first
election and used the former Rhodesian administration to do so.
many things - but the one thing that it had was a small but very
and dedicated civil service. The first election was conducted on the
of a genuine one person, one vote basis. All you had to do was go to
nearest polling station and produce your ID and then vote.
And vote we did - over 85 per cent of the total population voted - many
tears of joy. The result - almost every person in the country voted for
men and women who had brought about this unique opportunity. The old
attracted less than 3 per cent of the vote. As a result, the transition
peaceful, the planned Rhodesian army coup did not materialize and the
armies that had fought each other gave up their weapons and went home.
shot was fired in anger, it was an astonishing achievement.
A short while later I sat in the Stadium where we launched our new
and watched as units of the different forces - the Rhodesians, Zanla
Zipra, the Police all paraded and saluted the new leadership and the
of our freedom.
In 2000, after 20 years of Independence a new generation of leadership
launched its own bid for power through the same ballot boxes that had
used in 1980. How na´ve we were then! We honestly believed that the
which had fought for our independence and democratic rights, would let
vote for change. We were mistaken and we paid a high price for our
The Mugabe led regime launched a programme of terror and deception that
rise to the total subversion of the democratic values that had been
for by successive generations of Zimbabweans. The State since then has
everything in its power to ensure that less than half the eligible
population is allowed to vote, that the conditions under which they
neither fair nor free and that the information reaching the average
completely distorted by propaganda and lies.
And when we finally get to the actual day and go into the voting
there is hardly a person who does not think that "they will steal the
election" from us. It would now seem as if all the elections since 1980
been rigged to a greater or lesser degree. The specter of helicopters
full ballot boxes to polling stations in 2002 is still fresh in our
It is no accident of judicial history that of the 38 electoral
launched in June 2000, only 12 have been heard and 2 finalized. That
challenge to the outcome of the presidential election result in 2002
to be heard. The plain truth is that no Bench, no matter how warped by
political appointees could be trusted to judicate on such matters
seriously embarrassing the State and its regional defenders.
And now the Chief Justice has the audacity to say that the right to
not a fundamental right worthy of protection under the laws of the
What a mockery of our history, what a disgraceful exhibition of
appeasement with a corrupt and tyrannical regime.
The right to vote, in secrecy and safety, must be the most important
political right a citizen can hold. It is by these means that they can
change their leaders and the policies they represent. Apart from the
street violence there is no other way in which they can seek to improve
their lives and protect their interests.
MDC may have been na´ve to think that the Mugabe regime would allow a
democratic transition - but rather na´ve than we give up and go "back
bush" with the threat that we draw our country into the kind of morass
has enveloped Somalia and the Sudan.
We remain committed to fighting this cause in democratic ways,
that ordinary people have extraordinary wisdom and intelligence and
know what to do when they get the chance to vote on the 31st March
as I have said before such activity takes an awful lot of money and
just getting the tens of thousands of polling agents out to the polling
stations and seeing to it that they are trained and have the resources
supervise the poll will cost billions.
Billions we do not have. All we have is our courage and commitment to
country and our democratic values. If you want to help, but cannot vote
join us in the struggle on the ground on the day - then help us find
money we need to win.
The campaign is intensifying by the day. MDC still has no access to the
State controlled media, our people are still being arrested on a daily
for all sorts of things - image a three year sentence for three young
caught putting posters up in a small town - right next to the posters
ruling Party! We still have to have Police approval for every kind of
gathering and cannot even conduct training sessions or closed strategy
sessions with activists without CIO observers present. But as Dave
said - perhaps this is the only time they will be able to hear the
Bulawayo, 26th February 2005.