By Thobekile Khumalo
People with disabilities (PWDs) across the country have lamented over Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s (ZEC) failure to decentralise voter registration sites being the major contributer to their low voter registration turnout ahead of the March 26 by-elections and 2023 elections.
ZEC released dates for mobile voter registration centres across the country but in most places the dates have passed and ZEC still has not pitched.
According to ZEC statistics as of January 2022 only four people with disability in Bulawayo had managed to register to vote.
Disability Amalgation Community Trust (DACT) Executive Director Henry Chivhanga said inaccessibility of voter registration centres is depriving PWDs their right to vote.
“What happens is we have two scenarios at voters registration centres, yes we are given an opportunity to register to vote but the challenge for most of us is to get to be at voter registration centres from our homes, especially when looking at the rural areas where the registration centres are too far from where some people live. One might find that some wards stretch to over 50kms and with only one area doing the voter registration process,” said Chivhanga.
He said decentralisation of voter registration centres is a vital step towards inclusion of PWDs in issues of national interest.
“Villages are clustered around schools and if those schools are used as voter registration centres it becomes easier because there will be no need for transportation”, he added.
Chivhanga further stated that it’s unfortunate that the social welfare has no database of PWDs and that makes it difficult to know how many they are and how they can be assisted.
“Unfortunately the department of social welfare does not have the database of people with disability in the country, if they did then it would be easier for ZEC to do mobile registration where they would go to a particular village and look for that particular person with a disability and assist them register to vote because it’s their right as well.
“Also, village heads must take it upon themselves to submit names of people with disabilities to District Administrators who will then provide the information to ZEC so that they know where exactly they need to go and offer assistance”.
In an interview with Gateway to Elition Founder and director Robert Malinga said as visually impaired people they are being excluded by ZEC from the voter registration process.
“ZEC voter registration centres are far-away and inaccessible in two ways , the visually impaired do not afford to go there due to financial constraints because in reality blindness goes with poverty. Also there is lack of information on where to go,” he said.
He added that even if they manage to visit the offices there is no proper equipment that enables them to be able to register vote.
“When we get there information is inaccessible because for us we need braille, large print or audio to access information on on our own but none of those things are being provided at the centres. We recommend that ZEC adpots inclusivity or integration of the visually impaired in the election process by providing all these things.”