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Is Ms. Priscilla Chigumba and Her ZEC Under Siege?

ZEC Preliminary Delimitation Report
ZEC Preliminary Delimitation Report

The famous Shona adage “Wadziya moto wembavha” is synonymous with receiving, hiding, or buying stollen property. Although the literal meaning of this cautionary statement is “You are supping up with dangerous criminals, even sharing the warmth from their fireplace …”, it is a healthy reminder not to associate with questionable, uncouth characters.








This reminds me of my early years of residency in virgin Zimre Park, when new houses were scattered; the place was inundated with builders and ‘dhaka boys’ who resided in temporary wooden cabins as part of their home construction duties. If a thief made a mistake of stealing building materials, the builders would unite in meting ‘mob justice’. Of course, in the event that the unlucky intruder later died (kafira mberi), each and every mobster who participated in spontaneous injustice would be charged with culpable homicide. My point is that everyone associated with or perceived to be aiding and abating electoral fraud must be treated like an electoral criminal. If not now, history will judge them harshly, for that matter.






Today, Sunday, it is just over 10 days before Harmonised Elections. I can tell you that one place that is overheating with activity is Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC). To be honest, elections are about ZEC more than even political parties themselves. Thus, the infamous narrative, rather perennial at that, is “ZEC connives and conspires with ZANU.PF to make life uncomfortable for opposition parties”. This perception naturally gathers incremental momentum at this time of the political season. Yet I am not here to judge ZEC or make unfounded allegations, but then again, it is not nuclear science to even imagine how much pressure Ms. Chigumba is under.







Out of sheer coincidence, the 2023 / 2024 English Premier League started just yesterday, possibly other big European leagues to follow soon. Legend has it that being manager of top English teams like Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham et cetera is arguably one of the most stressful jobs in the world. Why not? Soccer business is calibrated in billions of US dollars, so if your salary is measured in millions of dollars too, it is inevitable that demands for a manager’s top-level performance will be equally high.







Ms. Chigumba is the anointed ‘top shelf’ purveyor of democratic elections in Zimbabwe, the proverbial _nyamukuta_ midwife. She is obviously highly paid. She is under local, regional, continental and global scrutiny. The two chief electoral protagonists – Nelson Chamisa and Emmerson Mnangagwa – expect nothing short of exquisite professional delivery of electoral justice from her. However, empirical evidence shows that ZANU.PF is generally considered as the ‘bad boy’ of elections in this part of the world. So, it is obvious that Ms. Chigumba must prove to all and sundry how impartial she is, and this puts her under immense pressure. ZANU.PF is the ruling party that controls all levers of electoral governance.





Mnangagwa not only appointed Chigumba, but also controls Parliament, so it’s fair to say he has a say in how elections are run in Zimbabwe. Hey, I did not say ‘a say in the outcome’, but certainly how the process pans out.

So far, Ms. Chigumba has had to manage a myriad of electoral challenges, ranging from a disputed Delimitation Report to unfairly disqualified candidates. In short, Priscilla Chigumba is a hostage to a very ugly electoral drama. I do not for once think her life is under threat, because she has been through worse. However, very few professionals – even in blue-chip boardrooms – can emerge from this type of situation unscathed. If ZANU.PF wins the 23 August election, questions will still arise if or not the plebiscite was free and fair. If CCC prevails, there is a distinct danger that the highly militarised ZANU.PF political structures will be tempted to ‘nullify’ the results – Niger style. Nonetheless, in such crucial elections, it is almost impossible to please everyone – a somewhat small consolation to Ms. Chigumba and her nervous team.







The most predictable theory in this contest being that ZANU.PF is slightly more ‘comfortable’ than CCC because every election for the incumbency is a home game. If you listen to ZBC radio stations and television, it is the home team that attracts all the accolades. Public press is unashamedly anti-CCC and pro-ZANU.PF, yet that could not be an indictment of Ms. Chigumba’s incompetency.








Although once a while ZEC instigates electoral ‘regulations’, they do not make the laws, but to say she is ‘safe’ from undue ZANU.PF influence is the highest degree of political naivety. ZANU.PF has been in power for forty years. This comes with a bit of ‘electoral expertise’, top of which is insider knowledge on hows and whens of managing ZEC.

The bottom line is that the elephant in the electoral room is not Priscilla Chigumba, but ZAN.PF incumbency. By the way, incumbency in a functional democracy is not problematic. It’ just that political scientists, observers and opposition competitors agree ZANU.PF and its structures do not say or do honourable things during elections.







What this arrogant display of electoral invincibility does is simply give the impression that Ms. Chigumba is ‘not saying anything or doing anything’ about their misdemeanours. The pressure cooker effect then portrays her as a hostage of ZANU.PF propaganda. The military and its war veteran entity worsen the situation by saying things like “we will never allow western puppets to rule…” or “we will never salute to western puppets.”. In a normal electoral environment, the ZEC would push back any statements that seem to influence outcomes. ZEC independence is not just constitutional, but has to be ‘practiced’ and enforced, if need be.







However, our electoral cycle is far from completion, so it would be difficult if not unfair to judge Ms. Chigumba. Yet if you look at the nature of electoral litigation so far, cases revolve around principle rather than character. If anything, there are salvos tossed at ZEC for bending the rules in favour of opposition as testified in the CCC 12 Nomination Court case in Bulawayo. However, looked at whichever way, Ms. Chigumba will have to find ways and means of surviving this bruising and unforgiving electoral ‘hostage crisis’.


Robert Tapfumaneyi