By Elizabeth Sitotombe

AS 2023 beckons and the country draws closer to the harmonised elections, there has been a mushrooming of NGOs that are mobilising youths to register to vote for the MDC Alliance.

The latest outfit, Project Vote 263, founded in July this year, has employed a new tactic of swaying youths in urban and rural areas towards the opposition party.

In what looks like a well-funded drive, the shadow group, Project Vote 263, using their +263719 622 044 mobile number, has been assembling youths in Chivi, Chiredzi, Binga, Bulawayo, Mutare, Masvingo and Harare.

Would-be voters are ferried to electoral registration centres. 

Youths are congregated for sports and social gatherings, all in the name of voter education.

It seems they have deviated from their old tactic of protests and stay-aways.

Prior to 2018 elections, social movements such as #ThisFlag fronted by Evan Mawarire, #Tajamuka/Sesijikile, #ThisGown and #TheZimbabweWeWant, among many others, employed  various faces of protests; from ‘mass’ stay-aways to the new one-man protests to decampaign the ruling Party.

Has this new tactic been influenced by election outcomes in Zambia and Malawi?

Interference by NGOs on the political landscape is not uncommon in Zimbabwe and, as elections edge closer, there is increased activity pointing to external interference in the country’s political affairs by shadowy groups such as Project Vote 263.

Who is behind Project Vote 263?

Project Vote 263’s chairperson is 21-year-old Allan Chipoyi.

Chipoyi, a student at the University of Zimbabwe and a committee member of the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU), was born on February 16 2000 in Mutare.

He attended St Matthias Tsonzo High School.

Chipoyi, nicknamed ‘Zaga’, was a nonentity until March 3 this year when he was arrested together with four others for participating in a gathering with intent to cause public violence at the Harare Rotten Row Magistrates’ Court following a magistrate’s decision to postpone the bail hearing of ZINASU president Takudzwa Ngadziore and the Union’s secretary-general Tapiwanashe Chiriga. 

Building on his profile, on June 27, he was pictured with Nelson Chamisa.

A week before, he had gone for a photoshoot session at Tendai Biti’s law firm.

On August 3 2021, he wrote on his facebook page: “Tiri vaNero.”

In an obvious campaign trail for the opposition, on September 1 2021 Chipoyi would coin hash tag #ChamisaNgaapinde. 

What is Project Vote 263?

Project Vote 263 claims to be a team of volunteers who seek to build an organised and informed electorate.

The NGO is targeting youths on social media and other platforms, particularly to try and sway their opinion come 2023 elections. 

Zimbabwe boasts a youth demographic of over 70 percent.

And social media has become the most effective turf where political players in the country are sparring and flexing their muscle in wooing would-be first time voters. 

On September 28, Project Vote 263 ferried a total of 55 would-be first time voter registrants in Chivi North to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission offices. 

A week later, on October 3, they were in Chiredzi rural hosting netball and football games ‘as a way of escalating their register-to-vote initiative’.

However, from the pictures, it looked more like a rally.

Who is funding these activities?

It is evident the little trinkets of silver are finding their way into Chipoyi’s coffers readying for 2023. 

If Alex Magaisa’s latest comments are anything to go by, Chipoyi maybe a willing player if he is oblivious to being a pawn. 

Seeking donations for the shadow group, Magaisa tweeted: “Can you help PROJECT VOTE 263 on the Generosity Network? Every little bit helps!”

It seems the shadow group has so many links to the opposition party which are difficult to ignore.

For instance, Doug Coltart’s sister, Bethany Coltart, is the brand ambassador of Project Vote 263.

Doug Coltart, son of former Rhodesian Selous Scout David Coltart, is a notorious so-called ‘human rights lawyer’ known to be a handler for shadow groups funded by the US Government.

Bethany, who has become the latest ‘political recruit’ of the family, last month wrote:

“As the new generation in Zimbabwe we have to dare to hope that change can happen. Let’s start by registering to vote.”

Hand of ZINASU

According to his social media page, Chipoyi is a member of ZINASU.

ZINASU, bluntly put, is a well-oiled regime change machine clothed in student politics.

The US, by its own admission, formed ZINASU in 1986 and as is evident, the objective was to destabilise Zimbabwe.

It is, therefore, understandable why the US Department of State was so excited in its 2007 report on Zimbabwe about their ZINASU project to the extent of coming out of the closet claiming credit for the formation of the student body.

In a November 16 2007 letter, accompanying the US Department of State Zimbabwe 2007 Performance Report, the then US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, James McGee, wrote that Washington was the undisputed leader in nurturing anti-Government civil society organisations in Zimbabwe, operating through a CIA-interlocked organisation led by former New York investment banker and Michael Milken’s right-hand man Peter Ackerman.

According to the US Department of State: “Youth organisations like ZINASU and Youth Initiatives for Democracy in Zimbabwe (YIDEZ) are two good examples of… (civil society organisations that were) nurtured through US (State Department) funding from an idea to a level where they are able to stand on their own and attract other funders.”

In 2007, Washington gave Freedom House and PACT a total of US$1,8 million to back civil society organisations hostile to the ZANU PF Government, of which ZINASU was a beneficiary.

ZINASU is also funded by a Norwegian organisation NORAD.

A May 2015 report by Nordic Consulting Group titled Students Leading Change: Evaluating the SAIH Support for Zimbabwe and the Norway Campaign of 2009-2014 (Project number: QZA-12/0822-36) confirms funding of ZINASU to promote regime change in Zimbabwe.

In addition, ZINASU is also funded by the Norway-based International Student Festival in Trondheim (ISFiT).

After winning the 2003 Peace Award, ISFiT issued the following statement: “ZINASU was founded in the late 1980s and is one of the key actors in the fight against President (former) Robert Mugabe’s oppressive regime. Replacing his regime with a democratically elected Government is one of their major visions.”

In the 2002 presidential election, ZINASU mobilised students to participate as ‘election observers’ under the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), a project funded by the US Government through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

On the eve of the July 31 2013 harmonised elections, ZINASU labelled ZANU PF ‘an enemy beyond conciliation’.

Readers must also be reminded that ZINASU is one of the groups that took part in the so-called Working People’s Convention (WPC) that gave birth to the MDC on September 11 1999.

ZINASU ceremonially became a wing of the MDC and this resulted in the ascendency of some student leaders like the late Learnmore Jongwe, Job Sikhala, Tafadzwa Musekiwa, Charlton Hwende and Nelson Chamisa, among others, into senior positions of the new party.

It meant MDC’s main wing dictated how the student body operated and engaged the establishment.

There is no doubt who is behind Project Vote 263, but the question remains: When will the likes of Chipoyi and like-minded quislings get it that these foreign aided tactics always fail dismally?

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