Opinion & Analysis

Too Young to Vote Must (Surely) be Too Old to Vote

By Rejoice Ngwenya

Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) boss Justice Priscilla Chigumba always and correctly repeats this with somewhat irritating but relevant consistency.

“My commission’s mandate is not to make electoral laws, but to interpret and implement whatever originates from Parliament.” If your conceptualisation and understanding of English grammar is limited – or at least ordinary – you are tempted to believe her in toto. I am not a lawyer; however, I have read Zimbabwe’s constitution many times over and notice that there is no electoral law that can be promulgated ‘without’ ZEC being consulted.

In other words, even if all Zimbabweans are generally ‘consulted’ in the making of laws, when it comes to electoral law, both Priscilla Chigumba and he ministerial boss Ziyambi Ziyambi definitely have the last say. Therefore, the phrase ‘not to make but interpret and implement electoral laws’ – at least to the best of my limited legal contextualisation – is – to borrow from Hollywood lingo – metaphorical factual untruth. The question really is: does ‘consultation’ amount to ‘making’ or merely ‘participation’?

If the currently raging controversy on electoral law amendments and related delimitation process can be considered as part and parcel of ‘electoral law making’, you can see how influential Chigumba and ZEC are in electoral law making.

What this implies, Chigumba does not just participate, she is consulted with the full mandate and intention to change anything that does not fall within the realm of her judicial or legislative expectations. Things get even more interesting because ZEC has full authority to couch rules and regulations relating to implementation and practice of the voting process. Again, from a layman’s viewpoint, when Chigumba asserts that she would never put in place any administrative practices that contradict constitutional and electoral law, you are persuaded to believe her.

However, astute electoral observers will tell you that there are thousands of instances where the ruling party ZANU.PF, its structures and leaders have blatantly violated electoral law in the past decade. Inevitably, no punitive action befalls them because ZEC chooses to be selective on what constitutes ‘political’ or ‘electoral law’ violations. Hey, allow me to make this a debate for another day! Today I have a more exciting angle. I cannot remember offhand which singer coined the term ‘age is nothing but a number’.

It probably is related to relations associated with love – that any persons of divergent age groups are free to date or even marry.

Like I say, I can’t recall. Yet in electoral law, age is not ‘just’ a number, it determines when you are permitted to vote. In other words, our Constitution and electoral law prescribe that a Zimbabwean can only be allowed to register to vote when they reach the magical age of majority.

Now, last week we woke to the controversy triggered by ZEC Commissioner Jasper Mangwana who insinuated – with his typical boyish enthusiasm – that the ‘current’ voters roll shows a couple thousands of registrants one hundred years old and above. Now, here is the controversy. From where I stand, there’s absolutely nothing amiss about Zimbabwean centenarians.

In fact, if Zimbabwe can prove beyond reasonable doubt that a substantial part of its pollution is beyond the 100-year age mark, this vindicates supremacy of our country’s health and culinary ‘policies’. According to Wikipedia, in 2022 it was ‘verified’ that Kane Tanaka of Japan was the oldest living person then, at Fukuoka. Her 117 years of life are considered an unbelievable human milestone.

My own mother Emma at 96 is junior to Kane, but I can tell you that my sisters who are taking care of her will testify how Khokho MaMlilo is definitely in no position to vote. She can neither walk on her own nor read or write. In fact, when a normal human being gets to age 90, it is physically impossible to get them to a polling station, never mind ‘assisting’ them to vote.

The conversation itself of including MaMlilo in the electoral process – no matter how legalistic, is an insult to my hardworking sisters.

And so here is my point. There is a glaring contradiction in our electoral laws, especially in relation to ‘assisted’ voters.

Assuming for once that all registered voters above the age of 80 can get to the polling station, the law allows someone close to them to assist with voting. Since voting has a lot to do with reading and writing, unless there is a braille system, assisted voting may also apply to the physically challenged.

However, voting is as much about deciphering the name of the candidate, the political party’s name as much as it is about privacy and pictorial recognition. In other words, when I am 80 years old – unless if I become severely physically impaired – I would still be able to recognise my preferred party candidate, produce my national identity and hopefully be assisted ONLY into the polling booth. But at 90 or even 100 years, it is unlikely that I will even make it out of bed.

On the other hand, my son who turned 16 last year and managed a motley seven As in his Cambridge ‘O’ Level examinations is – by local electoral law standards – not capable of making a credible electoral decision. Even if his female peers were given ‘permission’ at 16 to consent to other forms of human relationships, yet our laws say you can drive at 16 or 17; you can write ‘O’ level examinations; you can decide which subjects to take to ‘A’ Level but yet strangely you cannot decide who to vote for.

Legislative idiocy! In simple terms – according to ZEC, it is easier for 100-year-olds to either vote or be assisted to vote than the millions of 16-year-olds who have a more superior cognitive and physical capacity.

My take then is if at 16, armed with a national identity card for that matter, you are too young to make a credible valid political decision, this must also apply to anyone above the age of 80.

However, we know why ZEC and ZANU.PF want to perpetuate the myth of the assisted centenarian voter. In principle, there is absolutely nothing wrong with assisting anyone to vote, yet the privilege is blatantly abused. A debate for another day.

For now, my point is that it is not sensible to boast about centenarians on our voters roll because we know they will never physically vote. But someone will be abused as a proxy voter to inflate ZANU.PF electoral fortunes at the expense of opposition.

If my 17-year old son is legally considered too young to vote, equally, everyone above 80 years of age should be treated as too old to vote.

Rejoice Ngwenya is a liberal- _activist based in Ruwa, Zimbabwe.

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