By Partinella Ngozo
The corona virus of 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has negatively affected the voter registration process for youths in the Midlands province with the current restrictions limiting them from obtaining the required documentation needed for registration, it has been established.
Section 23 of the Electoral Act stipulates that for a person to register as a voter in a constituency he/she must be a resident of that constituency, have a valid National Identity card or Zimbabwean Passport and proof of residence. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions it has been difficult for some youths to obtain identity documents and to even reach the registration offices.
Mbizo Constituency Legislator Settlement Chikwinya aired out some of the COVID-19 barriers affecting youths from his constituency to participate in voter registration.
“The ZEC (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) district office is in the CBD (Central Business District) which is far away from Mbizo Constituency, and one requires USD$2 for transport to go to the CBD. Considering that the youths are school leavers and unemployed it then becomes difficult for them to register to vote.”
“ZEC office in Kwekwe was ordinary manned by three people including the supervisor, however the office is now open three days a week to allow workers to rotate. The District Registrar office is closed and cannot process IDs, this means without the IDsthe youths cannot register with ZEC. Government imposed a ban for non-essential workers or general citizens to enter CBD without police clearance, this means that the majority of people mostly youths are unable to access CBD freely,” said Chikwinya.
Chikwinya also highlighted the importance of vaccination which he believes if the government can roll out fast, then that can enable the country to get back to normal and allow the youth an opportunity to go through the registration process.
“The government should increase vaccination roll-out so that we decrease the infection rate of COVID-19, once the infection levels are under control there is need for ZEC to roll out registration outreach to all constituencies. These should be done together with the district registrar’s office for purposes of ID issuance,” he added.
It is important to note that voter registration is an integral part of our democracy and youths in rural areas should not be left out, however the situation in Silobela is gloomy with Silobela Member of Parliament Mthokozisi Manoki Mpofu confirming that there is a low rate of registration in his constituency. He further added that there is a serious challenge for youths in his constituency to get National Identity cards since most of the time the offices are closed.
“We are encouraging them to register to vote, but the challenge is that we cannot meet people because COVID-19 is causing a lot of disturbances in my constituency,” he said.
Chirumanzi-Zibagwe District Councillor Evangelist Idiraishe Dongo stated that the COVID-19 pandemic has not spared her ward either, because it has disrupted a lot of programs and activities that were lined up for youths.
“Due to COVID-19 we have challenges at the registrar office in accessing identity documents so that a person can use them not only on voters registration but for different purposes . They have a limited number and, in our Ward we agreed that there will not be movements until coronavirus numbers are low,” she said.
Zimbabwe Organisation for Youth In Politics Director Nkosilathi Emmanuel Moyo Senior said that there is need for government to digitalise the voters registration and accept the new norm. He said that going digital with the registration process will not be affected by COVID-19 restrictions.
“In this era of technology online registration is the new game in town and registration demands are very unfriendly to first time voters who will not be able to get proof of residence or other documents, and this has resulted in most youths in rural areas’ inability to vote if they are perceived to be opposition supporters,” he said.
Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) Programs Coordinator Ellen Dingani said statistics of the current registration process show that there is a lot that should be done to sensitise the community on the importance of registration. She also added that there is need to take advantage of social media to advance voter education.
“There is need for awareness campaigns in communities to sensitise people about the registration process as statistics are currently very low.
“On voter education I think more use should be made on social media and Short Message Service (SMS) as well as radios. People are likely to be reached more on those platforms at a time when movement is restricted to an extent. People are spending more time at home and on their phones. There is need for concerted efforts to send the message that would incentivise people to register to vote at a time when COVID-19 has had the effect to somehow discourage people from participating given the recalls that happened and the indefinite suspension of by-elections that has left communities without representation when they voted. In some cases, some have said there has not been any difference between having representatives and not because they were not delivering. So Civic Voter Education interventions should contend with that,” she said.
Voters registration is important for Zimbabweans to participate in, therefore there is need to come up with alternatives that help the process even when people are in lockdown.