The ongoing mobile voter registration by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) could be the last opportunity for Matabeleland which is least represented in Parliament to avert a further loss of constituencies, analysts have said.
Zimbabwe has a total of 210 constituencies of which only 38 of them are in the three Matabeleland provinces – Bulawayo (12), Matabeleland South (13) and Matabeleland North (13).
The remainder is spread across the seven other provinces outside Matabeleland.
Carried out after 10 years, immediately after a population census delimitation, which is provided for in Sections 160 and 161 of the Constitution, refers to the dividing of the country into constituencies and wards for the purposes of elections and involves coming up with a minimum threshold of registered voters in each of the country’s 210 National Assembly constituencies.
The exercise could see some constituencies with a very low number of registered voters being merged with others while some could also be split into more than one again subject to the number of registered voters.
Matabeleland region, especially Bulawayo which has the least number of registered voters compared to other provinces as of 2018 polls is at the highest risk of losing at least a constituency when the electoral management conducts the delimitation of electoral boundaries within the next six months unless a significant number of first time voters register during the ongoing mobile voter registration blitz.
According to the ZEC Harmonised 2018 Elections Report, of the 5,695,706 registered voters then, Bulawayo had only 258,567 when the country went for the polls, Matabeleland South 264,185 while Matabeleland North had 339,135.
The province that has the highest number of registered voters as of 2018 polls is Harare at 900,728, followed by the Midlands at 761,982 and Manicaland at 733,370.
Behind Manicaland is Mashonaland West and Mashonaland East at 655,133 and 633,410 respectively.
Masvingo has 617,212 while Mashonaland Central has 531,984 registered voters.
Magwegwe constituency in Bulawayo with the lowest number of 14, 383 registered voters as of 2018 is at the highest risk of being amalgamated with others.
Only five constituencies in the metropolitan province, namely: Bulawayo Central, Bulawayo East, Nketa, Nkulumane and Pumula with above 20, 000 registered voters as of 2018 figures could possibly survive delimitation.
The city’s biggest constituency – Luveve, covering Luveve, Gwabalanda and Cowdray Park suburbs, with a total of 34, 872 is most likely to be split into two with Cowdray Park standing alone.
Six constituencies with less than 20, 000 registered voters namely Magwegwe, Bulawayo South, Emakhandeni-Entumbane, Lobengula and Pelandaba-Mpopoma are likely to be affected by delimitation unless the number of registered voters rises significantly.
Analysts believe the ZEC mobile voter registration exercise which kicked off across the country on February 1, could help save some of the constituencies that are on the verge of being lost in Matabeleland.
“The more people register as voters the higher the chances for them keeping the constituency or even adding to the constituency,” said Effie Ncube, a political analyst.
“There are 210 constituencies in the country and those constituencies move from one province to the other depending on how many registered voters there are compared to other provinces. You would find a situation where Matabeleland South loses constituencies to Matabeleland North or to Bulawayo or Masvingo, Manicaland or to Mashonaland Central. So those areas that are going to register more people than others are going to gain constituencies.”
He further explained that those that will register fewer voters will lose some of their constituencies leading to under-representation in the august House.
Ncube urged the people of Matabeleland to go out in their numbers and register to vote in order to save their already few constituencies or gain more for the region.
He added that a reduction of constituencies would directly affect Matabeleland’s representation in Parliament.
“It’s very important for Matabelelanders to register to vote so that they could control at least 30% of Parliament by virtue of having 3 out of 10 provinces nationally,” said Vusumuzi Chirwa, another political analyst.
“It’s very possible for Matabeleland to save its current constituencies provided there is an intensive voter registration campaign, mobile voter registration centres within people’s reach like shopping centres, and a robust issuance of National Identity documents.”
The mobile voter registration is being rolled out in two phases – February 1 to 28 and April 11 to 30.
However, a visit by CITE this week to some of the mobile registration centres revealed that there is a very low turnout in Bulawayo, something that could be attributed to a lack of documentation.
When ZEC postponed the programme last year, it had said it would be preceded by mobile documentation of would-be first-time voters who have turned 18 but that has not taken place.
The voters’ roll for the March 26 by-elections had to close on January 8 before the Registrar-General’s Department could embark on that.
The electoral management body early last month released shocking statistics to the effect that it only managed to register a total of 2971 new voters for the whole of 2021, something that has been queried by civic society organisations.
“If Matabeleland constituencies are reduced it will impact negatively on the development of its allied provinces despite them being the cash cows of the country’s GDP,” said Chirwa.
“The idea of having few representatives weighs heavily on the issue of marginalisation which Matabeleland is incessantly enduring.”
For Mkhululi Tshuma, a social commentator, Matabeleland people have no choice but to register for elections in their numbers.
“The Matabeleland underdevelopment narrative has been buoyed by official and controversial statistics that have sought to justify the allotment of few resources to the region by presenting the people as being few,” he said.
“So the people ought to turn up in large numbers and register so that such erroneous fallacies are debunked. The people have no choice but to turn up in huge numbers. ZEC must enhance its visibility. Matabeleland civil society organisations must step in and do massive roadshows to conscientise people of the registration blitz.”
He said most people in the communities were not aware of the registration currently obtained.
“People must be conscientised,” he said.
“That task cannot be left on a deliberately erratic ZEC. People must be made aware of when ZEC teams will be coming to their areas.
He added: “Matabeleland will lose some constituencies which resultantly will lead to a further reduction of the few resources allocated to the region. This will lead to Matabeleland losing a voice in the legislature. This will not be good for the region.”