The truth, reality behind voter apathy in Matabeleland

By Lungelo Ndhlovu

A divided opposition, a fatigued electorate who have lost hope in the prospects of the country turning for the better since 1980, including wishes by the Zanu PF ruling party to stay in power ‘forever’ are some of the reasons why many young people in Matabeleland region are disengaged from civic processes and not registering to vote in their numbers.

Qiniso Khumalo (25), a youth from Pumula South, a western suburb in Bulawayo, said voting has not brought any tangible change into his life and is in a dilemma on whom to vote for in the 2023 harmonised election.

“I’m a registered voter, and there is talk of the 2023 election but the opposition parties are divided. Even if you want to vote, members of parliament are recalled willy-nilly by Douglas Mwonzora. For me voting is useless,” he said.

Khumalo’s sentiments show that voter apathy is real and occurs when the electorate feels disconnected and uninterested in voting.

This commonly occurs when voters are required to vote too often with no tangible results, and the voting process becomes an annoyance.

Another serious concern is the lack of trust in political parties and civic processes, which analysts believe is causing the low registration numbers in the Matabeleland provinces.

What will worsen matters for people in Matabeleland is that the low registration numbers will result in the delimitation, where constituencies in the provinces will be reduced resulting in less resources and representation in Parliament.

Dr Thokozani Khupe MDC-T leader acknowledged the disintegration of opposition party MDC since its formation in 1999 was to blame for voter apathy in Matabeleland.

“The needless fragmentation of the opposition has not only deflated hopes and punctured national confidence, but it has also slowly led to people staying away from national processes and losing faith in elections,” she said.

According to Dr Khupe, a closer look at the 2018 harmonised election results in Matabeleland South, North and Bulawayo clearly demonstrate the negative effects of opposition fragmentation in the region.

“In Bulawayo for instance, it was for the first time since 2000, that the mainstream MDC vote was below 50 percent whereas the combined MDCs vote would have polled 58.1 percent,” Khupe explained during a press conference.

Considering this realisation, Khupe urged Zimbabweans to rally together and encourage each other to be active participants in national processes especially in the ongoing voter registration blitz.

“Indeed, coalitions, slogans and our endless complaints in the townships and in the villages will not help us if we do not register to vote. In our various locations and in all our social networks, let us register to vote because our future is literally in our hands. We stand on the cusp of a new country and only a huge turn out on the polling day will make a palpable difference,” said the MDC-T leader.

Statistics from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) showed that by February 22, 2022, more than 49 000 people had registered for the first time to vote during the month-long voter registration exercise.

However, Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South have the least number of new voters at 2 091 and 2 244 respectively.

Bulawayo had 4 219 new voters registered during the period while Harare had the highest number at 16 437 followed by Mashonaland West which registered 5 275 new voters.

ZEC said it had set up 2 700 registration centres for the mobile voter registration blitz running from mid-January until February 28, 2022, adding the second phase of the mobile voter registration blitz will resume on April 10 to 30, 2022.

To increase the number of registered voters, a coalition of over 25 Civic Society Organisations (CSOs) operating in Matabeleland have been trying to mobilise young adults eligible to register to do so through a campaign called EKhayaVote2023.

The campaign started in October last year and its spokesperson, Nkosikhona Dibiti confirmed voter apathy was a real issue in Matabeleland.

“The truth behind voter apathy in the Matabeleland region from the work we have been doing revolves around marginalisation. People feel very marginalised and find no value in elections because they have become a way of electing people that have not produced results,” he said.

Dibiti said politicians had failed to implement devolution, which contributed to marginalisation, so people felt their wishes were ignored.

“This has contributed to voter apathy, as people see less and less of development in this region. For instance, children walk as far as 10km to school where they learn under the tree,” he said, citing another example where, people in Binga complained they travelled to Harare to get an emergency passport, while their district registry offices become ceremonial.”

Migration is another cause for low registration, said Dibiti, who noted people opted to leave their places of origin for better opportunities.

“There is a lot of rural to urban movement and migration to the Diaspora. There is even migration to Harare where decision making is largely done. Many people have moved from Matabeleland itself,” he said.

Dibiti also explained, the recruitment of young people into the civil service such as police, army is another factor that results in low registration as people are deployed in other areas.

“Police officers and army personnel are deployed in other provinces, which are not their home provinces, including teachers,” said the spokesperson.

Accessibility of road infrastructure was another factor that affected registration, as mobile registration centres were far away from people.

“Network of mobile providers is also limited, affecting information as people are not sure or aware of what is taking place. Locals would only access information when someone was physically deployed to teach about civic processes,” Dibiti said.

Limited radio network in communities was another concern as communities in far off areas such as Binga meant they could only access Radio Zimbabwe that broadcast in Ndebele and Shona, languages, which locals did not understand.

“People prefer civic education in Tonga which they understand yet nothing was done to share information in localised language,” Dibiti said, tying it to the digital divide, where those who had no access to the internet were excluded.

A political analyst, Effie Ncube noted people also complained that voter education came once in five years, during preparation of elections and was neglected most of the time.

“Then there’s serious information overload from campaigning political parties and ZEC at same time due to the electoral cycle. So, people don’t see the value of voting, arguing politicians only cared for them when canvassing for votes,” he said.

Lack of documentation, according to Ncube is another major issue causing low voter registrants.

“We can’t blame the youths for electoral apathy as the major issue is lack of ID documents. It is unfortunate that the issue of documentation comes out when it’s time for voter registration, meaning had it not been the time, there could be young people who don’t have documents even though they reached 16,” he remarked.

Secretary-General of Ibhetshu Likazulu, a pressure group, Mbuso Fuzwayo, concurred that unemployment drove people away from Matabeleland, meaning the population was affected.

“Many people are going outside the country in search of greener pastures and those who remain are put off by statements made by senior government officials that even if they lose elections, they won’t give up power. This discourages young people from participating in electoral processes,” he said.

Despite all these challenges faced by the electorate, Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) president, Nelson Chamisa encouraged thousands of party supporters in Bulawayo who had thronged the White City Stadium not to lose heart and register to vote.

“Every person above 18 must be registered to be a voter. I say to (President Emmerson) Mnangagwa, we will not allow 2018 to be repeated. This time it will not happen, we will not allow rigging of elections. If you are planning my brother, you must know that enough is enough. We are not going to accept any election that is rigged, cheated and stolen,” he said.

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