CONSTITUTIONAL lawyer and Presidential aspirant Professor Lovemore Madhuku has defended the hiring of former military personnel by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), saying it is unconstitutional to demonise people because of their previous work background.
Utoile Silaigwana, a former member of the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA), is the ZEC chief elections officer. The retired army officer has a long history of running contested elections in the country since the era of the late former President Robert Mugabe.
Madhuku said it wold be a problem only if the ZEC recruited currently serving members of the army.
“As long as they are retired members of the security services, there is no problem in them being recruited at ZEC. It, however, becomes questionable when currently serving members are seconded to the electoral body,” said the National Constitutional Assembly leader.
Madhuku contested the 2018 presidential elections and is expected to also throw his name into the ring for the upcoming 2023 general elections.
His statements came while backing utterances made by ZEC chairperson, Justice Priscilla Chigumba, who said the elections management body would not stop hiring ex-army personnel, who currently constitute about 15% of its workforce.
“Those retired members of the security services, as long as the retired members of the security services are in Zimbabwe, as long as they respond to the adverts that we flight for vacant posts, and if they qualify for the posts, they will continue serving in ZEC,” Chigumba said during an interview with Zimbabwe Television Network (ZTN) last Thursday.
“It is unconstitutional to discriminate against them on the basis that they once served in the military. Show me a country that has a policy that it does not employ people because they were once soldiers.
“These soldiers are people who die for the country, and ZEC does not have a policy that discriminates against them.”
She brushed off complaints by the opposition and some sections of the civic society that her organisation was militarised and that the ex-soldiers in its workforce were pro-Zanu PF.
“There is no evidence that has been brought before me to show that anybody with the so-called militarised background acted contrary to the mandate or interest of the registered voters,” she said.
Zanu PF spokesperson Chris Mutsvangwa also backed the ZEC boss, saying ex-soldiers are held in high regard in “any other countries” and therefore should not be discriminated against.
“In any other country, ex-defence and security personnel are held in high esteem. Such a service is actually a plus credit in job recruitment.”
But the opposition is adamant that the presence of ex-security forces at ZEC constitutes militarisation of the key elections management body and compromise its mandate to deliver a free, fair and credible election.
Newly formed Citizens Coalition for Change secretary-general Chalton Hwende said the conduct of ZEC would remain questionable as long it hired ex-army officials
“ZEC must not be militarised. It must ensure that it hires professionals that can independently perform their duties to guarantee undisputed elections,” said Hwende.
“What we have been demanding has been pointed out in various reports that have been released by electoral bodies.”
Silaigwana, the current chief elections officer, has 17 years experience in elections management, having served in the Electoral Supervisory Commission, the predecessor of the ZEC, between 2002 and 2005 as a provincial co-ordinator. He rose through the ranks to become the deputy chief elections officer in charge of civic and voter education.
At the inception of ZEC in 2005, Silaigwana was seconded from the army to serve as director for voter education and public relations. He was appointed deputy chief elections officer in charge of operations in 2007.
Silaigwana continued serving the ZEC after Mugabe was toppled in November 2017 In September 2021, ZEC appointed him the substantive chief elections officer (CEO).
Apart from Silaigwana, other former army personnel who served in a higher rank at ZEC include the late retired Major-General Douglas Nyikayaramba also served in the then Electoral Supervisory Commission when he was still in the army.
Nyikayayamba, a veteran of Zimbabwe’s independence war, was chief executive officer of the Electoral Supervisory Commission when Mugabe won the 2002 election over rival Morgan Tsvangirai. He left the role in 2008 and went back to the army as commander Three Infantry Brigade in Manicaland before he was promoted to military headquarters as chief of staff administration.
Yet another high-ranking ZEC official with a strong military background is current Supreme Court George Chiweshe, a war veteran who fought in the war for Zimbabwe’s Independence.
Chiweshe served as ZEC chairperson during the disputed 2008 elections whose results were withheld for 34 days. Chiweshe had served in the army from 1983 where he rose through the ranks and attained the rank of Brigadier-General which he held until his retirement in Aprill 2001.
Mugabe then appointed him to the High Court as a judge in 2001. Three years later, Chiweshe was appointed Chairperson of the Delimitation Commission of 2004 with responsibilities for drawing up electoral constituencies.
The MDC complained that constituencies were redrawn to favour Zanu-PF by increasing the number rural constituencies where Zanu-PF is stronger and reducing urban constituencies, where opposition parties had a stronghold.
In 2005, Chiweshe was then appointed ZEC chairperson When ZEC failed to announce the election results for five weeks in 2008, Chiweshe famously said ZEC was conducting “meticulous verification” of the results.
However, most critics accused the ruling Zanu-PF of using its military presence in ZEC to fix the results to give Mugabe another chance through a presidential run-off election.
With the army casting a long shadow over Zimbabwe’s elections in the past, political analyst Eldred Masunungure said the trend was likely to continue and the public perception of ZEC would continue being dim. However, he said ZEC cannot bar ex-soldiers from serving.
“Given those circumstances when ex-members constitute a significant number of the electoral management body workforce, members of the public are then forced to ask questions of impartiality and credibility of ZEC. In law, for sure ZEC cannot bar them, but from the public perception, this is problematic.”