The Sunday Mail
AS far as the administration of elections in the country goes, Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) Commissioner Joyce Laetitia Kazembe has seen it all.
She was part of the processes which saw the conceptualisation, formation and operationalisation of ZEC in its current form.
Her work has earned her admirers and critics in equal measure, but she takes it all in her stride.
“It is part of the job,” Mrs Kazembe told The Sunday Mail.
At 72, she speaks with such authority and eloquence that belies her age.
Born Joyce Chidove in May 1949, she says her life-journey has been driven by the need to participate meaningfully in all spheres of life.
“I am the third-born in a family of nine. I have a twin sister. My father was a nurse by training, but he held different roles which saw us live in different cities,” she said.
She spent most of her time in Masvingo (then Fort Victoria) and Bulawayo.
“I learnt at Bondolfi Primary School up to Standard Six, Monte Cassino for my Form One to Four and did my Advanced Level at Goromonzi High School.”
Her father worked as a clerk at The Chronicle and later decided to return to nursing, working in the radiography department at Ngomahuru Psychiatric Hospital in Masvingo.
It was through her father’s love for football that she met her husband of 49 years, Simon Kazembe.
“My father used to have a small football team in Umvukwes (Mvurwi), and my husband was a player there. He used to play number seven. We met and got married shortly after,” said Comm Kazembe.
After getting married, she focused on her family for a while.
“In 1981, I enrolled for a degree in political and administrative studies. I finished in 1983, graduating with a Book Prize. When I finished my degree, since I had a Book Prize, I was given a job as a research fellow and teaching assistant in the Department Centre for Applied Social Studies.”
She served in that role for six years before joining SAPES Trust.
As a civil society representative, her role at SAPES Trust enabled her to become one of the commissioners in the then Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC).
The ESC was one of the four bodies which played complementary roles in the running of the country’s elections, while the other three were: Registrar-General Elections, the Elections Directorate and the Delimitation Commission.
“I joined the ESC in 2001. I was part of the group under Advocate Gula Ndebele who gave recommendations that there should be a stand-alone electoral commission, which was in accordance with international best practice,” she said.
This heralded the birth of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission in 2004, in which she was a pioneering commissioner.
“It was an exciting but challenging time. I remember there was a time we worked hard to draw up the ZEC organogram, recruiting the right people for the posts and ensuring that ZEC as it is now gets the right foundation.”
Comm Kazembe is the longest-serving commissioner at ZEC, and her involvement in the country’s elections since 2001 has made her a target of political activists.
“We have to continue to live. The insults started when the major opposition political parties were formed. That is when we got the abuse; bombardment. I have developed a thick skin; I am now used to the unsavoury words,” she said.
Her academic background in political science and experience have allowed her to navigate the treacherous territory, which often see tempers flaring.
Between 2007 and 2016, she was deputy ZEC chairperson.
“My role as deputy chairperson for nine years also made me proud, it was an affirmation that I am good at what I do,” she said.
Asked on whether she is considering retiring, Mrs Kazembe said the thought has crossed her mind.
She has observed elections in most countries in the Sub-Saharan region, and as far as Europe, an experience she said is an eye-opener.
“My term as a commissioner ends next year on June 6 and that will be 22 years of service.”
Not a stranger to writing, she was among the women who came together to set up the Women’s Lawyers for Southern Africa (WLSA) together with Deputy Chief Justice Elizabeth Gwaunza and other visionary women.
“Part of the work we did involved a lot of writing. If you check early WLSA publications and books, you will see my work,” she added.
Being a devout Catholic who has held several senior positions in the church, Mrs Kazembe sees her degree as the fulfilment of a long standing dream.
“I always take up roles in the church. From the choir to the administration. I want to understand the Word of God more. When the Pope visited Zimbabwe, I was part of the team that was doing the planning.”
Comm Kazembe describes herself as a family woman who loves spending time with her husband, daughter and three grandchildren.
“I love family. Whenever I am not travelling or busy with work, I always make sure that I devote time to talking, cooking and singing with my family. I also enjoy decent parties a lot. I like Oliver Mtukudzi, Jim Reeves and the Beatles, who were superstars when we grew up. I can’t stand some of the new music but I enjoy Jah Prazyah’s music,” she said.
With election season on the horizon, Comm Kazembe knows that the next year will be hectic, especially now that she is the ZEC spokesperson and chairperson of the National Multi-Party Liaison Committee.
However, she is not worried, as in her own words “Chihera is up to the task; with the Grace of God, I will do well.”