Chigumba must uphold rights of the disabled


RECENT claims by Zimbabwe Electoral Commission boss, Justice Priscilla Chigumba, that the electoral management body would not provide Braille ballot papers for the visually-impaired voters in this year’s polls, cannot go unchallenged given that it affects a significant percentage of the country’s voting population.

Besides, this special group just like any other is constitutionally entitled to freely participate in the country’s electoral processes.

In previous elections, the visually-impaired and physically-challenged voters were assisted to vote, something that compromised their right to a secret vote and angered rights groups.

Assisted voting raises concerns of whether those who assist them follow their instructions, while also exposing them to victimisation.

Just like their able-bodied counterparts, visually-impaired people have a right to a secret vote and provision of Braille ballot papers should be considered a non-negotiable right.

Chigumba’s excuse that Zec has not yet carried a research to establish the number of visually-challenged potential voters is flimsy, unfortunate and smacks of hypocrisy to say the least, considering that the demand for Braille ballots is not a new phenomenon in Zimbabwe’s electoral cycles.

Perhaps, Chigumba should explain to the citizens who has hindered her or ZEC from carrying out the all-important survey to establish the numbers of visually-impaired voter population?

In fact, is her job simply to warm up the chair or to deliver to the electorate by putting measures that enable the voters to cast their vote in secret?

We believe Chigumba should show some seriousness so that ZEC becomes all-encompassing before this year’s election. What confidence does she have that she would still be Zec boss after the 2018 election? This section of society’s right to vote must be respected with all due respect, to Chigumba.

All Chigumba and Team Zec should have done is to commission such organisations as the National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH) to provide statistics of potential voters from their interest groups, and act wisely.

Prior to that, Chigumba had cited Zec’s tight fiscal space as stifling plans to produce special ballot papers for all interest groups of the society.

Chigumba’s recent comments also seem to be at variance with her subordinate, Zec voter education director, Taurayi Gavi, who last month assured the visually-impaired that their demand for Braille ballot papers was being considered ahead of this year’s polls.

Gavi even indicated that Zec was working with the Dorothy Duncan Centre (library for blind people) to come up with Braille ballot papers or Braille information.

It would appear, Chigumba is just not committed to address the issue, hence her flip-flopping. It boggles the mind why Chigumba wants to increase the number of assisted voters in this crucial election. Whose interests is she serving — the people or the politicians?

At this rate, citizens would wonder if she is sincere about her oft-quoted pledge to uphold all voters’ constitutional rights and preside over a free and fair election.

We believe it’s not too late for Chigumba to make amends and provide special voting material for all such groups before proclamation of election dates.

Donor agencies could readily step in and provide the necessary funding for such a noble project, if they are engaged on time.