By Prince Kurupati
Mistakes do happen from time to time. Some mistakes may be rectified easily without many consequences while others may have disastrous consequences even if they are rectified. In Zimbabwe, the body responsible for all national electoral activities made a huge error when it announced the wrong winner for a House of Assembly seat.
After the people had cast their votes in the 2018 harmonized election, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) undertook the process of compiling and tabulating all election results before announcing the winners. When it came to tabulating the results for the Chegutu West constituency parliamentary seats, the numbers showed that Gift Machoka Konjana of the MDC Alliance had won the elections. However, something bizarre happened (some would call it a mistake) as the ZEC on national television announced that the duly elected member of Parliament for the Chegutu West constituency was Dexter Nduna from ZANU (PF).
As ZEC had clearly displayed the numbers polled for both Konjana and Nduna but had somehow made an error in announcing the name of the rightful winner, many thought that it was just a matter of making another statement to the effect that an error had been made and the rightful winner was Gift Machoka Konjana instead of Dexter Nduna but alas, that was not the case.
As many would soon learn, such a mistake could not only be corrected by the word of mouth but had to be corrected by the Courts – this despite the fact that evidence of a false declaration was clear for all to see.
Having heard that the only route to have Dexter Nduna removed from Parliament as he was in actual effect an election loser, Konjana did approach the Electoral Court a few weeks after the erroneous declaration. Representing Konjana, Advocate Tererai Mafukidze argued that the Electoral Court had to move swiftly in correcting a clear and obvious mistake done by ZEC. Electoral Court judge Justice Mary Zimba-Dube ruled that Advocate Mafukidze’s petition against Nduna was fatally defective solely on account of being brought on notice.
With the petition dismissed by the Electoral Court, Advocate Mafukidze and Konjana took the matter up to the Supreme Court. At the Supreme Court, Advocate Mafukidze argued that Justice Zimba-Dube erred by declining to exercise discretion to condone non-compliance with its rules upon erroneously finding that the electoral law does not vest in it the competence to regulate its process yet section 171(9) of the Electoral Act vests such competence. Furthermore, Advocate Mafukidze stated that it was grave injustice that Justice Zimba-Dube did not consider the merits of the case even though ZEC acknowledged under oath the error of declaration. Essentially, Advocate Mafukidze asked the Supreme Court to set aside Justice Zimba-Dube’s earlier judgment and allow the petition to be heard on merit by a different judge.
The Supreme Court however is taking its time to make its judgment on the case and to this day, the man who was erroneously declared the winner of an election is still in Parliament and enjoying all the benefits that come with being a member of parliament.
The snail’s pace that the Supreme Court is moving with has not however disheartened or deterred Gift Konjana from working for the people who placed their confidence in him during the 2018 elections. In an interview with a local Zimbabwean news outlet, Gift Konjana had this to say, “My case is still before the courts in the Supreme Court. I will continue to fight as a matter of principle. The stakes are high, but still, I am determined. I pray that one day I will get justice…However, this is not in any way stopping me from executing my mandate as a people’s MP. I continue to be proactive in the constituency. I have a number of initiatives that I am carrying out. Am happy that am still connected with the grassroots.”
Speaking on ZEC’s error, the Election Resource Centre (ERC Africa) said “The case of the 2018 Parliamentary election results for Chegutu West reinforce the legal and institutional weaknesses associate with elections in Zimbabwe. Election laws need to be strengthened on how mistakes can be rectified and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission needs to set up administrative measures to resolve disputes.”
ERC Africa said the onus to have the error rectified did not just lie with the erred party that is, Gift Konjana but the whole constituency has a responsibility to demand their vote to be heard. The only way to do so is to petition the Courts to rectify the matter by overturning the decision made by ZEC. “The people of Chegutu must seek remedy to their tragedy through leading the demand for electoral reforms so that their vote is not compromised in the future. They must demand strong laws and strong institutions to make their future vote count. “