The Sunday Mail
On February 1, 2018, President Emmerson Mnangagwa swore in Justice Priscilla Chigumba as Zimbabwe Electoral Commission chairperson. She was selected from a short-list provided by the Judicial Service Commission and Parliament’s Standing Rules and Orders Committee. The Sunday Mail’s Chief Reporter Kuda Bwititi spoke to Justice Chigumba on her appointment and election management strategy.
Q: Were you expecting this appointment or you were simply content making it onto the short-list of candidates?
A: Not at all, though I hoped and prayed that I would be found suitable. As a Zimbabwean citizen, I hoped to be allowed to participate in taking our country forward in the capacity of head of the election management body.
Q: What was your reaction when the news was broken to you?
A: I was humbled. I said a quick “Hail Mary”. Then I sang a song called “My God loves me”.
Q: Who exactly is Priscilla Chigumba?
A: I am a mother of four – two boys and two girls. I spend a lot of time with them because we are very close. I am a voracious reader. I read anything and everything. I am a student of the art of war and the laws of power.
I am equally interested in both Shona and English literature. Currently, I am reading “Rotten Row” by Pettina Gappah. I read both Shona and English poetry and am passionate about Shona culture, particularly “Ugo Hwemadzinza evaShona”.
It is a study of our totems and our clan names, how they came about and what they say about us as a people. My favourite musician is Oliver Mtukudzi because he promotes our culture without fear.
I also listen to Jah Prayzah and Winky D.
In my view, their command of the Shona language is reflected in their rich lyrics, which I enjoy. My favourite food is sadza nenyama yakagochwa, vegetables and chilli.
Q: What are your topmost priorities at Zec?
A: I join the Commission when the election train is already in motion. A lot of preparatory work has already been done by my predecessor and the commissioners. I am grateful for their tireless hard work. My topmost priority is thus to ensure a successful conclusion of the processes that have already commenced; that is ensuring a smooth conclusion of Biometric Voter Registration and production of the voters’ roll.
The task that follows will then be to ensure the conduct of credible elections.
Q: What is your general strategy?
A: Past elections in Zimbabwe have been conducted under a politically polarised environment. This was clear even in the biased media reports in previous elections. The issue of polarisation is one which I see as a major challenge to the electoral environment as it potentially fans politically motivated violence and lack of tolerance by opposing parties.
I, therefore, intend to continue engagement with all the stakeholders, especially the political parties, to encourage them to adhere to their code of conduct for the avoidance of potentially dangerous confrontation.
I will also be encouraging the media to avoid inflammatory reporting that may incite and/or fan the flames of violence among the electorate.
Other interactions include continuous voter education and encouraging voters to utilise and enforce existing laws such as the Electoral Act.
The other challenge, as I am advised, may be the issue of resources. I understand that the Commission submitted to Treasury a budget of US$148 million for conducting elections, and Treasury has committed to funding approximately US$98 million of the said budget.
I will continue to engage the State to ensure that adequate resources are availed so that the Commission is able to deliver on its constitutional mandate and to maintain its dignity and independence.
In some jurisdictions, local companies donate goods, materials and services to the electoral body to ensure that it retains its independence.
There is no reason why our local companies should not follow suit, even given our current economic challenges.
Q: Contestations have characterised previous elections in Zimbabwe. Is an election that all parties deem credible achievable?
A: A credible election, in my view, is one which is conducted in line with the existing electoral law. Zec will implement the law as is provided by the statute books and the new Constitution.
The credibility of an election also depends on the behaviour of the political players. As I have already stated, Zec has been engaging with its various stakeholders and our clarion call has been to ensure that there is respect for the diverse views in the country and to encourage tolerance as well as urging political players to desist from politically motivated violence.
If this is done, Zimbabwe will surely see a free and credible 2018 election.
Our other strategy is continuous voter education. For instance, voters should be advised that the registration slip will not be used on Election Day.
They should not be misled about its role, its importance or its use as a tool to detect who they vote for. It is merely proof that a voter has gone through BVR; nothing less, nothing more.
Q: The opposition keeps bringing up “electoral reforms”. What is the Commission’s position on those?
A: The issue of electoral reforms is the responsibility of the Legislature. We have made recommendations to them through the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.
I encourage all political parties who have provisions they want amended to lobby Parliament to have the same Electoral Laws and Regulations amended.
Q: What is your assessment of BVR?
A: My assessment is that the process went on smoothly in most provinces. I was able to visit registration centres in Harare Metropolitan Province, which I am directly responsible for, as well as Mashonaland Central Province and witnessed first-hand the registration process.
Zec registered over 70 percent of the voter population as per ZimStat’s projection of the voter population for 2018. This, in our view, is within the internationally acceptable range of persons to be registered in any country.
Note, voter registration is not mandatory in terms of our laws and Zec’s role is merely to encourage the electorate to register to enable them to exercise their political rights.
Zec recognises that it is a constitutional right to abstain from voting just as it is a right to vote. We assure Zimbabwe that Zec will continue to register voters at all its 63 district offices up to 12 days after nomination day.
Q: And the election timeline?
A: Having completed this initial BVR exercise, the Commission is now working on the following key activities:
- Cleaning and de-duplication of data
- Production of the provisional voters’ roll
- Inspection of the voters’ roll
- Post-inspection cleaning and de-duplication
- Production and gazetting of the voters’ roll.
The full programme until the actual plebiscite will only kick in once the President has proclaimed the date of the election at his pleasure and within his discretion as provided for by the Constitution.
However, the milestones that are to be met as we work towards that date are as follows:
- Production of a provisional voters’ roll
- Inspection of the voters’ roll and attending to queries and objections by the electorate
- Proclamation of election date
- Sitting of nomination courts
- Production of the final voters’ roll for the 2018 elections
- Accreditation of observers
- Establishment of multi-party liaison committees
- Monitoring of media coverage of political parties and candidates
- Training of electoral officers
- Setting up of polling stations
- Announcement of results.
Q: When will observers be invited?
A: Once the proclamation specifying the date of the election is published, Zec will invite all persons wishing to observe the elections to submit their applications for consideration by the Commission’s Accreditation Committee.
Q: How will Zec ensure and maintain its independence?
A: The independence of Zec is guaranteed by the Constitution which states that the Commission shall not be under the direction or control of any person or authority.
I will adhere to the said provision and urge you and other stakeholders to understand these provisions and know that Zec is independent not only of the State, but the said political parties, too.
It is my intention to also improve and manage the “perception” of Zec’s lack of independence which arose in the past due to polarisation of our political playing field and deliberate peddling of falsehoods by some political players in order to discredit Zec.
Q: Critics allege that Zec’s secretariat has staffers with security sector backgrounds. What is your comment?
A: I have no evidence that there are any serving members of the security sector within Zec’s rank and file. Further, there is no law which prohibits Zec from recruiting persons who have worked elsewhere, including the security sector and who have since left such employment.
I urge anyone who has credible evidence that Zec has serving members of the security sector on its payroll to come forward and present it to the Commission.
Similarly, if there is any credible evidence – other than fear or conjecture – that such serving members of the security sector are compromising or have compromised electoral outcomes in past elections or by-elections, then Zec would welcome anyone who presents this evidence now during this pre-election period so that corrective measures can be taken well before we enter the election period.