Report of Ecumenical Peace Observers
Zimbabwe Presidential Elections- March 2002
We, International Ecumenical Peace Observers, from the World Council of Churches and the All Africa Conference of Churches have been invited by the President of Zimbabwe to assist Zimbabwe Council of Churches in observing the processes of the Presidential Elections held in Zimbabwe from 9-10 March, 2002. As we believe in the universality of the Christian Church we consider it both a privilege and an inherent part of our Christian calling to accompany all people of Zimbabwe in their search for peace and justice in the democratic election of a Zimbabwean President. As we are churches in search of reconciliation, justice and peace, our observation team is committed to non-partisanship, seeking the will of God and observing whether the election process is in line with the Christian values of truth, justice, reconciliation and peace. In our observation of the election process, we are guided by the principles of universality, transparency, secrecy, fairness and freedom.
While we initially intended to recruit and deploy ninety observers, thirty from Africa, thirty from Europe and North America, and thirty from Zimbabwe, the dynamics within Zimbabwe dictated a different approach. These dynamics resulted in us having to reduce the number of observers from Europe as the government of Zimbabwe did not invite or allow observers from some European Union countries. Accordingly, we could only secure the services of six observers from Norway, one from Canada and the rest were from within Africa that is from Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Zambia (including those from the World Council of Churches office in Geneva). Altogether our team consisted of fifty-eight persons. It is however regrettable that though a total of 3650 local observers were trained by ZCC, only 109 were accredited.
It was vital that we understood the context within which this election happened. Our advance team arrived in Zimbabwe on March 1, met with various political parties and civil society organisations and concentrated their observations to areas around Harare. Accordingly, orientation was provided for all members of the ecumenical peace observer team on March 6 before we were deployed. The findings of this advance team are incorporated into this report. ZCC provided nine election updates that assisted significantly in preparations prior to our arrival in Zimbabwe.
The Presidential Election of 2002 is considered as the most critical in Zimbabwe. President Mugabe faced his strongest challenge yet.
Sound economy, democracy, law and order and land distribution became central elements in the polarised election campaign, which actually started in June 2000 after the Parliamentary election. Agriculture is the backbone of the Zimbabwe economy, hence land reform is essential for all Zimbabweans. However, the politicisation of the land issue by the political parties is of great concern to the ecumenical family.
Law and order and related to that, the quality of the Zimbabwe democracy are at stake. In their pastoral letter of August 2001, 'The Truth Shall make you free...' the ZCC expressed their concern about the selective applying of the law, political violence and the role of the war veterans and the fast tracking of crucial bills.
Zimbabwe is part of the economic demise that the African continent is suffering from as a result of globalisation and the imposition of the neo-liberal economic policies with the resulting impact of high-interest and inflation rates, disinvestment, closing of factories, shortage of foreign exchange, huge unemployment, weak monetary policy and high debt. These together with misplaced priority, inadequate financial discipline and corruption derail the economy and everyone, but especially poor families are the victims. In a report released by the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) in Feb 2002, call was made for the IMF and World Bank to accept shared responsibility with the Government for the debilitating effect their policies have in Zimbabwe. In other words, the negative effect of globalisation is also hitting Zimbabwe hard. It is clear that these social economic woes have direct consequences for the political life and atmosphere of the nation and also directly influence the context we have to work in.
We, as an international ecumenical peace observer team, could not ignore the statements made by our Church counterparts who live and minister in Zimbabwe. Like them it is our mission to promote God's reign of justice and peace in the society in which we live.
Administration of the elections was the responsibility of the Election Directorate and that of supervision, the Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC).
In the past, monitors were chosen from among members of the civil society. In this instance, the Election Directorate chose to recruit most of the electoral officers from the civil service.
A very clear distinction was drawn between an election monitor and an observer. According to legislation the function of observers was confined to observe the election process and to bring any irregularities to the attention of the monitor on duty or the Commission. This placed severe restrictions on our ability to intervene and in contributing towards an environment for free and fair elections.
Zimbabwe has three dailies, two of which are government owned, and four weeklies, all privately owned. The electronic media, both radio and TV, are government owned. Whilst newspapers are not easily accessible to the rural area, the radio is a vital information tool for the rural people.
The ecumenical observer team noticed that there was a lack of objectivity in the media. The role of the media in any democratic process cannot be overestimated at a time when balanced reporting is critical.
Newspapers were divided along party political lines. In general the public print media favoured the ruling party while some of the private print media favoured the MDC opposition. This is a serious concern for us since it has led to polarisation of political parties and the broader society. While there was some balance in the print media, the radio and TV stations of ZBC are considered to favour the ruling party.
The biased reporting and negative imaging of some Western press did not serve the country well. It failed to draw a distinctive line between Mugabe as a person and the Presidency of the nation. The international media missed the opportunity for responsible reporting and for affirming the crucial role in promoting democracy, tolerance and good governance.
'One lost life' is for us, in the Church, one life too many. This value for life is expressed in the Church's Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV), which seeks to address all forms of violence.
The ecumenical movement, globally and in Africa, particularly in Zimbabwe where violence prevent people from exercising their right freely, is engaged in creative peace programs as it observes the Decade to Overcome Violence to address negative impacts that prevent people from expressing themselves freely. However, in some circles churches are accused of neglecting their prophetic role. We therefore seek forgiveness in cases where we have not done enough in the search for peace with justice.
Member churches of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches informed us that the period leading up to Presidential Elections 2002 was very volatile and since April 2001 about 150 people were killed in political violence. There were many incidents of harassment, rape, malicious damage to property and general breakdown in the rule of law. We observed some practical examples when we were shown the scars on the back of a member of the Zimbabwe Student Christian Movement (ZSCM) who was beaten while distributing ZCC voters education posters and flyers, and we listened to stories of rape victims who are members of the MDC. Such incidents resulted in unacceptable levels of intolerance and disrespect for the right of 'my neighbour' to have his or her own political preference. Consequently communities were living with suspicion and fear. Such situations did not auger well for the building of a democratic society and multi-party democracy.
The sharp differences between Zimbabwe's leading political parties were perceived to be at the heart of political violence. While media reports created confusion about the origins of violence, factual reports and statistics of incidents documented by churches and human rights organisations indicated that most of the cases of political violence could be blamed on the ruling party. But other reports and stories told to members of the advance team indicates that the main opposition party (MDC) has its share in the violence.
Young unemployed people have been used by the political leadership to further their own interest. In the year 2001, government introduced National Youth Service, which was viewed with high suspicion by society, as the curriculum was not clearly spelt out. The people of Zimbabwe see the NYS as part of the ZANU (PF) militia. They have been accused of setting up roadblocks on highways and demanding ZANU party cards from those travelling. Untold terror reigned in both urban and rural areas due to the activities of these young people.
Efforts by peace-loving citizens to break cycles of violence deserve the support of the Church and the State.
Not enough of this has been done in the Zimbabwean situation.
We share the concern expressed in certain circles that the introduction of amendments by Presidential decree created an environment that was not conducive to the peace process.
The Election Days
Accredited ecumenical peace observers were teamed with accredited ZCC local observers and deployed in all ten provinces.
Reports on the actual observations of these observers are here summarised, drawing on those observations that are generic.
- The voter turnout resulted in long queues at most polling stations in Harare and Chitungwiza. During the first day of voting the determination and morale of voters was very high and they endured long hours of waiting. Unfortunately this changed during the second day, while the queues remained long resulting in a High Court ruling to extend the elections to a third day.
We find it difficult to reconcile the long queues with the reported number of voters. One reason for this discrepancy could be the slow pace at which voters were assisted by election officers; another reason could be despondency and fatigue that crept in when voters became tired and hungry, due to spending such a long time in endless queues. Whatever the case may be the number of reported voters as against the long queues needs further analysis.
- A considerable number of potential voters were either turned away (from polling stations) or only allowed to cast ballots for the Presidential Election. In some polling stations the voters turned away were more than ten percent. A figure so high is disturbing. In most instances the reasons for this is as a result of incorrect identification documents. Where tripartite elections happened voters who discovered (only in the polling station) that they were in the wrong ward were not prepared to go and join another long queue and decided to cast a ballot for the president only. Presiding Officers took the details of all people who could not vote, for whatever reason.
- It was disturbingly surprising that men voters outnumbered women in a society where women are more than men. One of the reasons forwarded for this discrepancy is that women had to perform normal household chores while men could endure the long hours away from home. Another is the fact that male dominance is rife in society. Such a situation is cause for concern as it denies the majority (women) the right to vote in so doing participate in democratisation processes.
- Electoral officers had to work extra ordinary long hours in order to process the large numbers of voters through a slow and tedious process. In some cases these officers worked until the early hours of the morning. Some did not even manage to take a break in a 48-hour period of service. Accordingly, their human abilities were stretched to the limit.
We are unanimous in commending those electoral officers who walked the extra mile and those who were creative in speeding up the election process. Their patriotism and service to Zimbabwe and its people is exemplary. In the same breath we are profoundly concerned about those officers who were ill-equipped for the task, and there were many. Voters were often referred to Presiding Officers in instances where other officers could have assisted.
- An inherent part of the ethos that informed our commitment to participate in this observation is respect and compassion, especially for the aged, the infirm and the mothers of our nations. We therefore find it disturbing that the aged, sick persons, mothers with small babies and pregnant women were not always given the treatment that they deserve. The fact that people in hospitals and clinics could not vote is an infringement on their right to participate in the election political leader. Government may want to consider ways of ensuring that this right is not infringed upon.
- As international observers, who possess a lot of experience in non-partisan election observation, we could have assisted in the credibility of the elections. Due to the restrictions on our functions Zimbabwe was denied the opportunity to draw from our experience. We were left with the impression that the sacrifices we have made to be in Zimbabwe are not appreciated. This may discourage experienced observers for future elections.
- Rejection of local observers, by some electoral officers, was a disturbing cross cutting element. We could not have done our work without the support, advice, knowledge and accompaniment of local observers.
- Police officers brought a sense of calmness and control in most instances. We however consider it important that, before elections, conditions must be created that will make it unnecessary for police to be present in polling stations. We appreciate situations where governments have the commitment to meet the needs of the people.
- In some polling stations, especially those where voting had to be extended beyond the normal hours, insufficient lighting was provided. This may have resulted in a number of spoilt ballots as voters may not have been able to read the ballot papers. We had some voters complaining about the poor lighting. In some instances polling stations had to be closed prematurely as a result of poor lighting.
- The voters roll (in its present format) created many problems. It will help if prospective voters can inspect the voters role some time before the actual elections. From the statistics it is apparent that more people voted for the President as a result of the voters roll not being available before the elections. Checking of the voters roll consumed too much of the time of election officers.
- Extension of the voting days in Harare and Chitungwiza was a good decision. This allowed many potential voters an opportunity to exercise their right to vote. However, the delay in opening of the polling stations resulted again in long queues.
- Observer teams in Manicaland, Mashonaland East and West Provinces, reported a high level of intimidation and violence of various natures. Many people made use of the presence of the observers to share their fear and some shocking experiences. Visible evidence could be gathered easily, especially in Manicaland. It cannot be said differently by us than to mention the central role of ZANU (PF) and the Youth Brigade or "Militia" in these respective areas.
Counting of Votes
Some of our observers participated in the counting process. They confirmed that though the process was slow and time-consuming, it was solid and effective.