By JOHN CHIMUNHU|
I voted in Zimbabwe’s elections on Wednesday. That was quite remarkable, considering that I could not vote in the last election on June 27, 2008. I had fled to South Africa to escape a brutal wave of violence ordered by Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF, which eventually claimed 2 500 lives and caused half a million to flee their homes, according to diplomats.
I voted in my home town, Zvishavane, which lies in a dangerous enclave swarming with Zanu PF militias. Less than 35 kilometres from my polling station, the notorious Zanu PF thug Biggie Chitoro has set up one of more than a dozen terror bases. His son, Takaidza was seen on Wednesday loitering at a local school, putting on a threatening presence.
Two weeks ago, the militants led by the war veterans local leader, Geza Zimi, attacked and injured the MDC-T candidate for Mberengwa North, Takavafira Zhou, president of the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe.
When MDC-T president Morgan Tsvangirai was in the area a few days before the election, he mentioned Biggie Chitoro by name and told him to stop the violence.
Despite the threats, I saw a lot of people determined to vote.
“I have voted for the first time in my life and I feel happy,” said one young man.
Yet I was shocked by the number of people who were prevented from voting for various reasons. From the beginning, it was apparent some officials at the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission were out to frustrate voters. When I went to the Registrar-General’s offices to check if I was still registered as a voter, I saw dozens being turned away, for the flimsy reason that computers were not working. Then, on voting day, many suddenly found their names missing.
But, for me, the greatest act of rigging was to prevent up to six million non-resident Zimbabweans from voting. It is wholly shocking that in this electronic age, where people can even cast their ballots from Mars, people can be barred from exercising this fundamental right. The reason given by Zanu PF’s Patrick Chinamasa was most insensitive. He said people outside Zimbabwe should not vote because Zanu PF had been prevented by sanctions from campaigning to them!
As a voter, I was shocked by the avalanche of propaganda unleashed by Mugabe and Zanu PF on the public media. As a journalist, I was horrified by the unprofessionalism. For months, every news bulletin was prefixed with a story praising Mugabe. The drivel just got more and more ridiculous, with the Herald claiming falsely that an opinion poll by Freedom House had said Mugabe would win the election. In fact, the only credible poll close to the election, by Williams and Associates, showed Tsvangirai garnering 61 percent of the vote against Mugabe’s 27 percent.
All of Mugabe’s 10 rallies were broadcast live on ZBC radio and television. Tsvangirai was not even allowed an unedited minute to say what he wanted. Even his paid adverts were not aired. Such crude manipulation had a terrible backlash, however. It was a stark reminder of how unfree the media in the country was and demonstrated the clear need for reform.
HOPE AMID CHAOS
There were many other examples of rigging and controlled chaos, often disguised as inefficiency. ZEC did not provide electronic voters rolls up to the day of voting, despite a court order. The main effect of this is that political parties could not check if their members were on the final roll. They also did not have time to identify ghost voters.
A lot of other strange behaviour characterised ZEC. They failed to register millions of living people and kept a million dead voters on the roll.
On Tuesday, Mugabe held a press conference where the surprise guest was defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa. This seemed to confirm Tsvangirai’s earlier assertion that Mugabe was a puppet of the military. Mugabe said the generals who threatened a coup if he lost were stating private opinions. Obviously, this was for the benefit of the assembled journalists and observers. He had not taken any action for what were clearly treasonous utterances. What will really matter, however, is the behaviour of the generals after the results are announced.