By Buhle Tshavango.
The abrupt resignation of Zimbabwe’s first female judge President, Rita Makarau as the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) chairperson, has sent tongues wagging and stirred fears of a compromised election, now only a few months away as she was leading the process of compiling a new voter’s roll.
Makarau’s unexplained and sudden resignation comes soon after the inauguration of the new President causing speculation as to whether she was chucked out by virtue of her G40 alliance being a public secret. For four years opposition in Zimbabwe have been pushing for Makarau to step down to no avail, as she was adamant in retaining her post, unexpectedly she has bowed out with no explanation sending the opposition into a panic attack citing possible intimidation from a ‘third force’.
According to a statement released yesterday by the National Electoral Reform Agenda (NERA) which once at the forefront of Makarau’s resignation calls have seemingly changed tactics, her sudden and unceremonious departure has created uneasiness throughout the entire opposition body.
“NERA’s much-considered interpretation of the resignation is that it is manipulated in line with the new political dispensation…For Rita to be in charge is to retain a Mugabe loyalist with the risk that she will make Lacoste lose the 2018 elections.
“…NERA despite having fought for too long to have Rita retired from ZEC, the character and nature of her sudden exit has created more worry than joy. The absence of stakeholder consultation on the matter smacks of the inevitable political undercurrents dominating her resignation”, said NERA.
The MDC alliance who had most of their manifesto deliverables ‘co-opted’ into the national budget are now having also to deal with one less campaign strategy with Makarau’s resignation, this has created much confusion as they have now changed goal posts saying it is not good news as there is more to it than what meets the eye.
MDC National Spokesperson Obert Gutu has come out saying whilst they welcome the resignation of Justice Makarau there is still concern that the whole administrative set-up at ZEC is still overdue for right-sizing and professionalizing.
Rita Makarau achieved many successes in her own right by handling her first legal case at the age of 24 and later became a law lecturer, public prosecutor, and high court then Supreme Court judge. Justice Makarau became Zimbabwe’s first female Judge President in 2006, catapulting her career to much higher levels. Before her being appointed ZEC Chair, Makarau was serving as acting Chief Executive of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). Her unpopularity, however, started in 2013 when former President Mugabe appointed her ZEC chair, it was then argued that the appointment was unprocedural noting her dual role as both ZEC chairperson and the secretary of the JSC as this created conflict of interest.
Since her appoint four years ago Makarau has failed to reconcile the electoral act to the new constitution culminating in the boycotting of elections by Zimbabwe’s main opposition party.
She also fell out of public favor when she failed to make sufficient disclosure of the central data server system and was also criticised for not allowing the diaspora vote .The proposal by ZEC suggesting that women who do not possess property in their name or who receive utility bills in the name of their husbands may obtain a statement from their husbands in whose name the property is listed to use as constitute proof of residence caused a public outcry prompting as it was deemed was regressive to women empowerment , prompting Open Parly to start a trending #DearRita online engagement which saw ZEC being forced to create an online presence for engagement.
Makarau leaves a legacy of committed advocacy in commencing the Biometric voter registration, she also took time to engage with stakeholders and stood her ground in defying attempts by the registrar general’s office to interfere with electoral issues. Makarau braved the hot seat of being ZEC chair amidst backlash from all corners and at times found herself unwillingly bowing to pressure as with the case of the alien vote.
Makarau is one more name added to the few women in Zimbabwe who broke the glass ceiling and rose to the echelons of political power.