Absent printing press throws ballots into chaos

Zimbabwe has had to find an alternative way to print ballots after it emerged that a $2.5-million press it ordered would arrive only in August, well after the election. 

The setback has once again heightened concern about the country’s readiness for the election next week.

However, Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) chairperson Justice Rita Makarau reportedly said yesterday that the printing of ballot papers was complete and that “sufficient measures” had been put in place to ensure a credible election.

The completion of the printing comes amid concern from Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change that the state-owned companies printing the ballot papers, Harare-based Fidelity Printers and Printflow, fall directly under the control of Zimbabwe’s security establishment, which openly supports Zanu-PF.

The MDC-T wrote to the ZEC on Tuesday demanding access to the printing of the ballot papers at the companies, fearing that they may be tampered with.

According to a source close to the transaction, Printflow ordered a Speedmaster SX 74 two-colour printing press from German-based Heidelberg Printing Machines some months ago. However, the press has not yet reached Durban harbour and Zimbabweans go to the polls next Wednesday.

Delivery date
“Unfortunately, the delivery dates don’t tally with the date of the election. The estimated arrival dates are between August 5 and 12,” the source said. “I think the buyer thought that elections were going to be held later.”

The source said Printflow was experiencing a number of logistical problems in printing the ballots, and the company was under “enormous pressure”, worsened by technical breakdowns.

Heidelberg South Africa’s representative, Eddie Schmidt, yesterday confirmed that Printflow had bought the machine, but that it had not yet been delivered in Zimbabwe.

Efforts to get comment from Printflow were fruitless as the manager, Nomsa Sigale, said she was not in a position to comment.

Makarau blamed Printflow for the chaos in last week’s special voting by members of the security forces, telling the media that the company had suffered a breakdown and that the ZEC had not been informed in time.

On the day the special votes were cast, she said ballot papers were not available and “some were coming through and others were still being printed”. However, she insisted that there would be sufficient ballots at next week’s elections.

Complaint to the ZEC
Meanwhile, Makarau’s announcement has thwarted the hopes of MDC-T policy co-ordinator Eddie Cross, who had tried to become involved in the printing of ballot papers by complaining to the ZEC that the process was not transparent enough.

Cross said his party was having difficulty in disengaging Zimbabwe’s security sector from democratic processes, including polling, even though the law is now clear that they should not be involved.

“So, in the letter to the ZEC we basically said, for the election process to be transparent and accessible, political parties have to be involved.”

Opposition sources also raised the question whether Heidelberg was violating European Union sanctions by dealing with a Zimbabwean firm alleged to have links with the security forces.

However, the head of the EU Zimbabwe delegation, Aldo Dell’Ariccia, told amaBhungane that Printflow was not among the companies listed by the EU as subject to sanctions.

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