When Zimbabweans head to the polls at month’s end, a segment of the population will be voting for the first time in over a decade. Our correspondent spoke with some of Zimbabwe’s ‘alien’ voters about what this election means to them.
By Thomas Madhuku, Harare
Among the major highlights of Zimbabwe’s inclusive government was the passing of a new constitution that extended voting rights to so-called aliens: residents of Zimbabwe whose parents are of foreign origin or who are of foreign origin themselves.
Most of the aliens living in Zimbabwe, who are originally from Malawi and Zambia, are excited by the prospect of participating in this high-stakes election. They’ve pointed out that because they came into what was then Rhodesia during the Central African Federation in 1953, they, like other black Zimbabweans, were allowed to vote in 1980. Yet that all changed 2001, when the government passed an act that prohibited dual citizenship and stripped these now aliens of their voting right.
Their coming on board this year is definitely some sweet music to the MDC-T. The party, led by current Prime Minister Tsvangirai, has pushed for dual citizenship and the restoration of aliens voting rights. In fact, the MDC-T will be looking forward to a bumper harvest of votes from this once excluded group whose population is estimated to run into hundreds of thousands.
"Every vote counts"
Pedzisai Joseph Gabriel hopes that his vote will make a big impact. The 42 year old is particularly concerned that he and his peers will be able to secure employment.
“I was born in Zimbabwe, but have been denied the right to vote because my parents come from Malawi. Now that I can vote, I am really excited and I know my vote will definitely deliver a government that cares for its citizens,” he said.
Thirty-six year-old Mugove Simon, originally from Malawi himself, has long been out of employment and was so pressed for money that he could not move out of his father’s two-roomed cottage in the suburb of Mabvuku.
“The principle is that every vote counts and I am very sure that if the previously disenfranchised community of aliens vote, maybe things will go the other way,” he said.
Cecelia Laston resides in the high-density suburb of Tafara, 15 kilometres east of Harare. The 67-year-old mother said she is willing to vote for a party that will prioritize job creation and improve the living conditions of foreigners.
“Many of us have never enjoyed a good life since the government of Zimbabwe started treating us as aliens,” she said.
She added that her re-bestowed right has given her every reason to vote, as this will ensure that she, too, gets to determine Zimbabwe’s next government.
"The will of the government"
Another prospective voter is 74-year-old Edson Jimu.
“I last visited Malawi in the early 70s and have known no other home except Zimbabwe, so I was worried that I [could] not voice up and determine Zimbabwe’s government,” he said.
Many aliens have shown that they do not take the power of their votes lightly. They are pinning their hopes on faith – that the political leadership will not renege on its earlier commitment to allow them to vote.
According to 56-year-old Robson Phiri: “It depends on the will of the government to allow us to participate in these elections because, in the early ’80s we were allowed to vote, but later on the privilege was taken away from us.”
Phiri, whose parents are from Malawi, added that his choice will be for a party that recognizes those like him as citizens of Zimbabwe, not aliens or foreigners.