Thursday, 3 July 2008

Blow by Blow from the Ground

If you are interested in blow by blow dispatches regarding the last week's electoral sham and the Zimbabwean crisis from the ground, see what Stephen Chan has written for Prospect magazine..

Dispatches from Zimbabwe

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Zimbabwe in Crisis

Zimbabwe is in crisis. A worldwide effort is needed to urge South Africa's Thabo Mbeki to pressure his friend Robert Mugabe. A global petition is growing:


Zimbabwe is on a knife's edge between democracy and chaos. Results still have not been released from the 29 March elections and each day, more signals emerge that Mugabe will resort to violence and fraud to hold on to power.

Mugabe is unlikely to listen to the world's outcry - but he might listen to his old friend and powerful neighbour Thabo Mbeki, president of South Africa.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Ziso: 'Killing Democracy with boredom'

Harare, 5 April

A definite gloom has settled in the country. The government is systematically boring the population out of the electoral process and ZEC has still not announced judgment of the presidential election. On the radio the results of the senatorial election are droned out at a snail’s pace. On the television, cartoons and reruns of football games. For most of the rural population little news has been heard, except of course for ZANU’s accusation that the MDC bribed election officers in 16 constituencies – these seats are going to be contested – a victory for ZANU will give them back the parliamentary majority. The ‘freeness and fairness’ of the election has not been contested by the opposition – one hopes the MDC can back up their claims of 50.3% victory in the presidential election and avoid a run-off which is bound to prove destructive to the ordinary person.

Apparently, the limit for a run off is anywhere between 3 weeks and 90 days – the government will of course buy time to send the fear-mongers out and swing what should be a landslide for the MDC to another defeat. In that 90 day interim, great suffering will take place. Not only will the economy crash (again!) after the state bankrolled the electoral process with toilet paper (headline of the Herald yesterday was the release of the 50 million dollar note! NB: read 50 billion as three noughts were cut off last year), but the widespread intimidation and suffering of the population is inevitable. This is what has caused the gloom in the country today. It is game-over for the current regime whether they like it or not. If not the MDC, then the economy is going to finally backlash on them. The few businesses keeping the country afloat are bound to leave if change is not afoot. It is just a pity that the transition period may involve violence and blood.

Less than 40% of the electorate voted on 29 March. The apathy is astounding. But when you watch how the government operates it is understandable. They have been shown time and time again that their vote means absolutely nothing. One would imagine the MDC would be more prepared to prove that rigging took place given that their victory has been stolen two times previously. The next few weeks will show whether their leadership is equipped to out-strategize the ZANU machine. A stronger alliance with MDC-Mutambara and Mavambo would create a united front in the opposition, but Tsvangirai seems to be going it alone. He has the overwhelming support of the nation, but the final battle of 90 days’ intimidation and violence could outwit and undermine his current lead. Mugabe’s is probably holding out till his 85th birthday to avoid being called to the Hague – his plan must be to win by any means and hand on to one of his loyalists next year. This could mean disaster.

The impasse that has been reached is indeed gloomy. Destabilization of the foreign press through arrests has created fear and havoc. The rumour mill claimed that Tendai Biti was in hiding after his public proclamation of MDC victory. But the city has resumed its pace and life is going on as normal. Everyone is bored with the election – they know it will get them nowhere. Soon the international interest will peter out, the press will go home and the world will focus on Palestine, Iraq, Sudan and other nations in crisis. Then in the isolated darkness, the intimidation will slowly spread and stifle the populace with absolute fear. Democracy in Zimbabwe will quietly suffocate.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Ziso: 'Judgment Day '

Harare, 3 April 2008

Only children could have a restful sleep tonight. The fate of the nation lies in tomorrow’s announcement. The Zimbabwean Electoral Commission, after stalling for five days, will be forced to issue the results of the Presidential Election. Bets are hedging on how narrow the margin will be for the run-off. The elation, bubbling at the inevitable, is quickly doused with the threat of violence. The tension is palpable. The Zimbabwean winter has turned this week and the evenings are beginning to bite. At night the streets are empty and the moon has gone. It is a dark hour. The ordinary folk toss and turn in their sleep, “Just tell us!” They’ve had enough of this stress and anticipation. Their fates lie in the balance.

At this minute, the corridors of power are still working late. The MDC has claimed victory pre-empting the official announcement in a brave maneuver. The government is planning its next move. It will be decisive. There are endless scenarios of what follows, both good and bad, most of them grey and murky. Nothing is simple in Zimbabwe. Getting anything done takes time, and Victory will be no different. Careers and lives are at stake, as well as huge bank balances and historic alliances. And of course, there is the well being of the patient Zimbabwean people, quietly hoping that they have some small say in their future ability to eat, to work, to express themselves. At times like this all one can think to do is pray. Judgment Day has arrived and the goblins are at the gates. It’s a time when champions are needed. Tomorrow we will see what mettle they are made of.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Ziso: 'And then the silence'

Zimbabwe, 2 April 2008

The atmosphere in Zimbabwe is thick with suspense. Nervous giggles are exchanged, followed by pensive silences. Anything could happen. MDC is confident that Tsvangirai maintains a constitutional majority in the presidential polls and has proclaimed it publicly. The BBC played an April Fool’s Day joke on the country with headline news reading, “Mugabe agrees to resign.” The buzz soon died down when the claim was not followed by any proof or confirmation, but for a second the heart of the nation leaped. Resignation would be a peaceful option, whereas the underlying cause of tension is the very real possibility of a military coup taking place. Other scenarios include three-weeks of violence in the townships in the lead up to a run-off if Tsvangirai is cheated of his 50% plus 1 majority. Already minor skirmishes have taken place between youths in the Harare townships with rivaling ZANU and MDC candidates arrested.

In the aftermath of the election, there were a number of arrests of supporters and candidates of all political factions. In Mashonaland Central, a ZANU MP was arrested for shooting someone, and even in Mvurachena the Mavambo MP candidate for Hatfield and the Senatorial candidate’s daughter spent Election Day imprisoned. A surge of violence in the run-off could lead to the declaration of a State of Emergency and marshal law. In the townships there is already an informal curfew: people are not being encouraged to leave the house after 7.30. Armoured vehicles and riot police are already on guard in these areas. Even during the day the streets of Harare are empty as tension mounts.

ZEC is slowly announcing each parliamentary result from the thousands of constituencies across the country. They carefully announce a ZANU win followed by an MDC win – there is nothing random in the order. It is widely believed that these are delay strategies while piles of papers are reshuffled. Bureaucratic delay is a characteristic tactic of the state, which most Zimbabweans have experienced when getting anything official signed. The election result will be no different. Zimbabwean Television broadcasts football, nature programmes and Japanese shopping shows to the majority of the nation who are left in a vacuum. But those with access to satellite television know that the eyes of the world are on this nation. Whether the military will concede to salute Tsvangirai is the big question. And whether Mugabe will (uncharacteristically) go down without a fight. The Makoni camp will have an influential swing vote in the event of a run-off and have made a profound contribution to Tsvangirai’s apparent win by showing that ZANU PF is not as unbreakable as it would like the nation to believe. But Zimbabweans have watched elections before and hoped for change. Even with all these stresses and tensions we are still hopeful, but with the full knowledge that democracy is not an easy concept for ZANU PF to understand.

We wait in expectation for the Presidential announcement, but ZEC has till Friday to declare it. It is most likely that the silence will continue to the last minute.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Ziso: 'Kick Off'

Harare, 1 April 2008

Election day started smoothly. Driving through Harare at 6.30 in the morning queues of people were already waiting to be counted. 95% of the Senator’s polling agents pitched up to work, most of whom stayed at their stations until mid-day the following morning when the count was finally posted. Their reliability and commitment to ensuring that voting was closely monitored was a reminder of how impressive the Zimbabwean people are. The pace of voting slowed down in the afternoon and by 5pm it looked as if the day was almost over. But of course the storm began to brew as the sun set. Polls officially opened at 7am and closed at 7 pm. All those in the queue at that time would be allowed to vote. At 6.30 polling agents began to call with alarming reports. Truckloads of voters were being bussed in to various sites in the remote farm areas, and in the shanty town of Hopley the atmosphere was volatile. Long lines at the end of the day meant that voting would go on till at least 9pm, with agents spending the night locked in to watch the count. Electric generators had been distributed to many stations, but the election officers did not know how to use them, and counting was conducted, at many sites, by candlelight.

A hushed silence returned to the streets on Sunday, but this time with an edgy tension. Polling agents were transported home and results collected from the 53 stations. A complete study has not been done of Mvurachena but it is clear that MDC-Tsvangirai has won in this constituency by a huge majority winning double of Mugabe’s score. Makoni lagged in third place. It appears that the electorate did not discriminate in the harmonized election and generally voted Tsvangirai for president, with the same scores received by most other MDC-Tsvangirai candidates. The only break in the pattern was the persistence of the incumbent ZANU MP who maintained his hold of the farming area. Fay Chung will not be winning the seat as Senator in this constituency. This is disappointing for the people of this area as she is a committed advocate of great experience and was determined to champion the rights of the Hopley people, but with a six-week campaign it is not surprising that Mavambo did not achieve total victory at once (ka One!) It is most likely that they will now form a party to develop their manifesto and plans for a future government.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is trickling the count out at a snail’s pace. Although very few results have been declared, it is clear that the final fight will be Round Two between the old boxers Mugabe and Tsvangirai. It must be a great disappointment to Simba Makoni, who certainly displayed the most impressive and sophisticated leadership qualities in this election; the Mavambo campaign has been a major revolution in the Zimbabwean political scene and completely reinvigorated what had devolved into a politics of name-calling and dog-fights. The idea that truth can be heard is simple, and the MDC have been saying it for a long time. But it is a great step that some of those entwined in the Liberation Struggle history stepped out of the shadows and admitted the truth, in memory of ideals and dialogues now squandered and forgotten. It is a clear and strong voice that has been hidden by the party for twenty-eight years. Finally it has been unveiled. Although it would be an exaggeration to say that the idealists of ZANU broke out in glorious cavalcade and victory. Only a few recent members defected, Simba Makoni and Dumiso Dambengwa, but their immense bravery and courage is even more impressive for the great risk they took.

The silence has been broken in the family and at last the young son is willing to challenge the father that he once so revered and respected. He has the strength to tell sekuru (grandfather) he is wrong. He has stepped out alone, buffeted by a wave of activism and renewal, Hope and the ideal that good will win out in the end. For Simba Makoni there is no turning back; this is only the beginning.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Election result projection points to runoff vote

HARARE (Reuters) - Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai will beat President Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe's crucial election, but be forced into a runoff vote in three weeks, according to a ruling party projection.

Two ZANU-PF party sources said on Tuesday the projection showed Tsvangirai falling short of the 51 percent needed for outright victory. It was similar to projections by an independent monitoring group.

ZANU-PF ahead in official count; Concerns grow over rigging

HARARE, April 1 (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's ruling party edged ahead of the main opposition on Tuesday with over half of parliamentary election results released and concerns grew that President Robert Mugabe was trying to rig the vote.

Riot police in armoured carriers patrolled two of Harare's opposition strongholds overnight and residents were told to stay off the normally bustling streets.

Three days after the most important vote since independence, only 109 out of 210 parliamentary constituencies had been declared, showing the ruling ZANU-PF two seats ahead of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Monday, 31 March 2008

MDC and ZANU PF equal at 19:19 - second government minister loses seat

The latest official parliamentary election results announced by Zimbabwe's electoral commission show that the ruling ZANU-PF have 19 seats and the Opposition MDC also have 19.

A total of 210 constituencies are being contested. No official results have been published yet from the presidential election.

Public Affairs Minister Chen Chimutengwende is the second government minister to lose their seat.

First results announced in Zimbabawe: Justice Minister loses seat

Results for the 4 concurrent elections that were held in Zimbabwe on Saturday are now starting to be released in Harare by the electoral commission. With the release of the first results only there's a long way to go but they suggest its going to be a close run thing.

The election results pages of the official Simba Makoni, MDC, and Government of Zimbabwe www sites are yet to release their first statement of the results. Meanwhile, Reuters and others have been filling the gaps.
HARARE, March 31 (Reuters)

08:59 GMT
Zimbabwe's opposition MDC and ruling ZANU-PF were running neck-and-neck, according to the first election results issued by the Electoral Commission on Monday. The commission started announcing the results from Saturday's election shortly before 7 a.m. (0500 GMT) after a long delay prompted the opposition to accuse President Robert Mugabe of trying to rig the vote to stay in power. The first six parliamentary constituencies were evenly split between Mugabe's ZANU-PF and Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), said the commission.

09:45 GMT
Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa lost his seat in Zimbabwe's election as latest official results on Monday showed the ruling ZANU-PF and opposition MDC running neck-and-neck. The electoral commission said each party had won 12 parliamentary constituencies out of a total 210 seats. No official results were yet available in the presidential poll, in which Robert Mugabe faces the strongest challenge to his 28-year rule.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Results news: Disputed reports and counter claims

(Reuters) HARARE - Zimbabwe's opposition said on Sunday it had won the most crucial election since independence but President Robert Mugabe's government warned its opponents that premature victory claims would amount to an attempted coup.
(BBC) ...BBC Southern Africa correspondent Peter Biles says the MDC is working on the basis of partial, unofficial results...

Zimbabwean Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu accused Mr Biti and the MDC of "speculation and lies" and "causing unnecessary havoc".

The state-run Sunday Mail quoted the ministry's secretary, George Charamba, as saying that if Mr Tsvangirai declared himself president "it is called a coup d'etat and we all know how coups are handled".

Friday, 28 March 2008

Ziso: 'Calm before the storm'

Midnight, Harare, March 29

The night before Election Day and the Zimbabwean sky is calm and clear, not a sign in the peaceful starscape that all hell is about to break lose. Already the rustlings of the underground have reported incidents of intimidation and double-dealing, and the threat of violence looms in the shadows. Armoured tanks and riot police have crept into the city over the past few days - an intimidation tactic - a silent reminder that the eyes of the state are watching you. A paralyzing fear that they hope will accompany you into the booth in which you alone may sign your death sentence or grab your lifeboat with the crossing of an X. In the farmlands of Mvurachena, the intimidation and bullying of the isolated communities is obvious. There is a fear that breathes in this country, in both the homes of the poor and vulnerable and on the tables of the safe middle class, even in the hearts of those Zimbabweans far from home and thinking of their families and in the consciences of those within the ruling party still paralyzed into silence.

Harare is abuzz with talk of rigging. Even before the polling stations officially open in seven hours, boxes of stuffed ballots have been discovered. 9 million ballot papers have been printed for an electorate of 5.6 million people. And misinformation regarding the electoral law is being spread like wild fire. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has officially stated that the presidential vote will be counted and posted on site at all polling stations but ZEC-trained polling agents have been told to expect the presidential ballots to be counted at a central location. This is just one instance. Rigging has happened before and it will happen again - will this time be any different? Will objection to the steal be brought to justice? It has been the most peaceful run-up to an election that Zimbabwe has seen this millenium. Opposition candidates have been relatively free to campaign and create dialogue with the electorate. The atmosphere of multi-party democracy has been surprisingly refreshing after years of polarity, but the same could be said of the lead up to the elections in Kenya, in which the Kenyan people were obviously engaged and expectant that democracy would be delivered.

Tomorrow is going to be a hard slog for everyone involved in this election. In fact Tomorrow is most likely to last until Sunday, maybe Monday, possibly Thursday people are saying. Expect a Florida style stand-off and many days of expectation as the reshuffling of the entire authority of the country is counted in piles of yellow, blue, green and white ballot papers. Expect chaos and confusion in the so-called ‘harmonised election’. Expect excessive skullduggery and massive swindling, flagrant denials and unexpected announcements. Expect the unexpected. Whether Zimbabwe will fall into the pitfall of violence is the big question. Mugabe’s ‘degrees of violence’ have unleashed themselves on the people before, and the MDC’s youth have learnt to fight back in the backstreets of the high-density suburbs. But the Zimbabwean people are by and large peaceful and patient and pacifist. Perhaps too patient, but their pacifism is to be respected – they are a population that remembers a civil war in their lifetime. The poverty, desperation and pure frustration are at a high point but the fear and paralysis is still strong. Who knows what thunder and lightning, gales and hurricanes the storm will bring. We hope and pray that in the aftermath a new dawn will rise.

Fay Chung calls for a courageous turnout in the Zimbabwean elections tomorrow

In an interview with the BBC, candidate Fay Chung calls on the electorate to take courage and come out to vote for change in the elections tomorrow.

Earlier, a former government minister told the BBC that Mr Mugabe might not be able to prevent one of the two main opposition candidates from winning the presidential election.

"I think the issue is whether the electorate is going to be brave or courageous enough to come out in large numbers, because I think the rigging of the election has been possible when there were small numbers dividing votes," Ms Chung said.

"But if you have millions coming out to vote, it will be very difficult to rig. If the polling agents and the observers are very watchful, it will become more difficult."

Ms Chung, a Senatorial candidate now allied to Simba Makoni, conceded that "there are a lot of 'ifs'", but insisted that Zimbabweans were desperate for change after 28 years of Mr Mugabe.

"I hear people saying... 'We are being abused. If we keep on electing the same government, we will continue to be abused'," she added. "So the question is: will they vote for the MDC or Simba's movement?"

Ms Chung said Mr Makoni's decision last month to stand against the president because of what he described as a "failure of national leadership" had begun a "period of change" in Zimbabwe.

"The steps taken by Simba Makoni have broken a Gordian Knot in which we were so tightly strung that we did not know how to get out of it," she told Radio 4's World Tonight programme.

"I think that whether he wins or not - I think he will win - he has changed the political geography of the country."

Ms Chung also acknowledged there was a potential for violence similar to that witnessed after the Kenyan presidential election last year, regardless of the result.

Read the full article on BBC Online...

Suppporters of Simba Makoni before the election

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Ziso: 'A day in Mvurachena '

Zimbabwe, March 26

Fay Chung spent the day visiting her most impoverished constituents. Mvurachena encompasses suburban housing areas, and then the vast expanse of farmland that surrounds the Harare airport. Hopley Farm is home to a population of refugees who were violently removed from their homes in the high-density areas during 2005’s Murambatsvina (the disastrous ‘clean up’ of several hundred thousand urban dwellers homes). Hopley Farm was forcibly reclaimed during the fast track land redistribution program and given to the City Council. The refugees were invited to re-locate to the isolated area where they now live in makeshift squatter shacks. Three year’s later, the farm has been sold (at a very low price) to a relative of our incumbent president and the refugees once more face destitution. These are the povo, the poorest of the poor, many of whom have been engaged as activists in the campaign, seeking protection behind their senatorial candidate.

The campaign team then moved to a series of farms in which Fay informally met small groups of the community. In some areas there was a happy dialogue, singing and dancing and welcome; in others, the rumour that Simba might actually be planted by Mugabe reared its head during the question session. Simba’s late entry into the race and his ZANU PF credentials has been confusing to some but it is obvious when one hears his honest assessment of Mugabe that he could not possibly be acting on the Fist’s behalf. His smiling campaign poster is in stark contrast to the violent and stern campaign of the Fist. Mugabe’s railing against Makoni (calling him a flea, a prostitute, a sell-out while spitting and frothing at the mouth) has been the best PR campaign Makoni could have received and laid the population’s suspicions to rest, but in this remote community the doubt still lingered. On another farm, women who had previously been activated to support the campaign as polling agents ran away when they saw Fay approaching. Eight policemen lingered ominously in the background. In some areas there is still great fear of intimidation, and it is clear that crowds that have gathered in the day to listen to her speak have been bullied in the evenings when left alone with their pro-ZANU neighbours.

The evening was spent at a conference between Makoni and women’s groups. Makoni spoke passionately about the fact that women have borne more of the load of hardship in the past decade, and lived with great fear for themselves, fear that they will not be able to feed their children, fear that their loved ones will die in their arms. He then went on to lay out his vision for women’s equal participation and engagement in rebuilding the country, but not from a segregationalist perspective. His manifesto does not specify a section on women’s issues; his outlook is macro – the government will create the structure in which things start working again, and the people will be empowered to solve problems themselves. Integration and self-determinism are at the heart of his outlook on gender, “We are not going to solve the problem for you instantly, but we will remove the impediments to you solving the problem for yourself. We will be an enabling, not constraining leadership. Together - pamwe chete - we will solve the problem.” (The Mavambo gesture is two hands clasped together over the head: the ZANU fist of Black Empowerment and the MDC open palm of Change joined together to rebuild the country in Unity.)

Fay Chung spiced up the debate by pointing out that in her university days in the sixties there was only one black woman enrolled and 100 black men – ‘What are the reasons?’ she asked and called for in-depth research on systemic problems that disempower women in Zimbabwe. For instance, under a Mugabe law married women are unable to inherit from their parents. “If they want to inherit, they shouldn’t get married,” was Mugabe’s response to criticism. Although Simba’s gender policy is still vague, what was genuine was his willingness to listen, and he set up the meeting asking for a genuine response to his views and was not afraid to test his views in a room full of well-spoken women. He railed against the culture of ‘chef’dom (big-wigs are known as, and act like, chefs/ chiefs). “Government is about service, not being served.” Fay ended the conference by thanking Simba for his bravery, acknowledging the fearful environment that Zimbabweans live in where suffering takes place in silence without criticism of one’s leader, “Simba has cut through the gordian knot that Zimbabwe has been trapped in.”

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Amnesty International reports on harassment as election nears

As Zimbabweans prepare to vote in national elections on Saturday 29 March, Amnesty International today (26 March) warned that the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly of opposition party supporters are being unnecessarily restricted.

Amnesty International's Zimbabwe researcher, Simeon Mawanza, has recently returned from Zimbabwe. He said:

'We continue to receive reports of intimidation, harassment and violence against perceived supporters of opposition candidates - with many in rural regions fearful that there will be retribution after the elections.'


Ziso: 'It’s not working! But we’ll get it working again'

Zimbabwe, 25 March

Today Simba Makoni’s final rally took place in the high-density suburb of Kuwadzana before a crowd of some thousands. All future rallies have been cancelled by the government with claims of an apparent lack of police availability to manage disturbances. Nevertheless, those present are upbeat barely concealing their anticipation. The crowds bedecked in yellow (T-shirts, flags, and make-shift paper hats) proclaim Simba kaOne! The atmosphere is curiously non-violent. To underscore the mood of multi-party participation, MDC supporters suddenly crash through in a truck, their open palms and paraphernalia of red bursting into the throngs of yellow. They sing MDC chants and the crowd gathers round the spectacle, fascinated, curious and ever-hopeful for the proverbial T-shirt.

The songs end and there is a mad dash as someone shouts out that T-shirts are available. It is a false alarm, however, and the mood settles as it becomes clear that proceedings are about to get serious. A procession of vehicles arrives and people rush to line the dirt road, shouting, President awuya! (The President has arrived). But it is not Robert Mugabe and his firing squad of protectors, but Simba, who the people now call their President.

Makoni opens by greeting the crowd, clapping his hands according to custom. The crowd eagerly greet him back, clapping their hands in return. He immediately establishes a rapport that borders on camaraderie. Wearing a bright yellow hat emblazoned with Simba, and a sunflower pinned to his front shirt pocket, he begins by thanking the crowd for attending. His address is earnest and direct, without pomp or ceremony. He speaks in Shona and his introduction is peppered with the language’s subtle and indirect phrasing, “There are some people who, when they want you to listen to them, come to your shops and market places and order them to close to force you to come and listen to them speak at the stadium. Am I right?” There are loud cheers of agreement as the crowd enthusiastically replies, “Yes, you’re right!” For the next hour, his speech addresses the backlash that has been aimed against him and states his position on Education, Healthcare, Investment, Inflation and the Land Issue, denouncing the current government’s policies and ending each topic with the catchy, “Its not working, but we will get it working again!”

He performs with passion, and fiery conviction, moving back and forth across the stage with easy familiarity, not a politician, but a man on a mission to make sure that people understand what he stands for. For being widely described as a geeky technocrat he performs with surprising humour and aplomb, and the crowd laugh and cheer good-naturedly in response.

The late afternoon sun mellowed as the rally dispersed peacefully. It was a positive and upbeat gathering. The six-week campaign has been full of optimism and goodwill, but it is an uphill struggle against twenty-eight years of the Fist. Zimbabweans are ready for change. Saturday will be the Zimbabwean democracy’s final test.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Link roundup

Some selected mainstream, historical, and more esoteric links:

Coming to a Crunch
(The Economist, March 19th)
David Coltart
(Blog of a MDC MP and Human Rights Lawyer in Zimbabwe)
(A review of Fay Chung's book, 'Re-Living the Second Chimurenga: Memories from the Liberation Struggle in Zimbabwe')
At Home Abroad; Shadow on the future
(New York Times talks with fay Chung in 1989,
while she was Minister of Education in Zimbabwe)
Mugabe's Last Stand
(Newsweek, 22nd March)
Mugabe's Maneuvering Dims Hopes for Fair Election
(Wall Street Journal, 22nd March, sub required)

Ziso: 'Simba kaOne!'

Zimbabwe, 24 March

Simba kaOne! is the chant in the run up to Saturday. Simba One Time! It is most likely that the vote will lead to a run-off for the presidential election between the final two candidates. Simba kaOne! is a battle-cry for a landslide victory by the Makoni campaign and a New Dawn (Mavambo) for Zimbabwean politics, but the struggle for first place will probably continue with a run-off in another three weeks. Which two will remain in the game is the big question.

Fay Chung interviewed by ZBC at a rally in EpworthMakoni’s Harare rally was postponed from morning to afternoon, and then to the next day. Rumour has it there are security risks. His rallies outside of town have met with more hostility than the relatively calm urban centres. In fact, ZANU supporters are not to be seen in town at all. 2005’s Murambatsvina (Operation Clean up) made winning back the urban vote impossible and the ruling party is focusing its attention on the 70% rural electorate. Outside the city, ZANU food hand-outs are scheduled at the same time as Makoni rallies and road blocks make rural canvassing difficult. In the city, everyone is desperate to catch a glimpse of the Golden Boy. Tuesday’s rally will be the last real chance before campaigning ends.

Today Fay Chung supported a rally of the indomitable Margaret Dongo. Dongo is an outspoken ZANU war-vet who famously broke from the party in 1995 and, to ZANU’s shock and amazement, won her seat in Sunningdale as an independent candidate. She was Zimbabwe’s first independent MP and the first female leader of a political party. She speaks passionately about how women have a far greater role to play within our patriarchal society and lives by her word. A truly original character, it is her precedent that Makoni is following as a brave stand-alone candidate without a party. If he wins he’ll be the first president in recent history to win a campaign without a political party! Simba kaOne!

Post Dates and Entries

Regular readers of this blog will have noticed that we sometimes experience a delay between the writing of the field reports in Zimbabwe and their posting online. This is caused by some email delays and other issues. So, to make things as clear as possible what we now do is post each report as they come in and also include a report date in the text. This indicates the day the post was actually written.

Thanks! Zimbabawe Now.

Ziso: 'Can I have a T-shirt?'

Zimbabwe, 23 March

There are five more days before African democracy is tested in Zimbabwe. Anyone with experience of politics in Zimbabwe will tell you that democracy in a run up to elections comes down to T-shirts. A campaign cannot run without the ubiquitous T-shirt, with the candidates face plastered on the front. At every site the request is repeated ad nauseum, “Can I have a T-shirt?” Beware the naive candidate who opens their car boot – they risk a riot of violent looting and crowds wrestling over the precious items. The local T-shirt making factory has been open all weekend printing shirts for ZANU, MDC, Makoni. The most precious ones at this point must be Mugabe’s stern portrait emblazoned “Fist of Fury” – hopefully this T-shirt will soon be a collector’s item, a little piece of African history.

The Fay Chung Senatorial Campaign Team prepare for the Saturday election: Mvurachena includes over fifty polling stations within a vast urban expanse. The upshot of Makoni’s entry into the ‘harmonized election’ is that voters will have a wide choice for their various ballots, with the option of choosing MPs, senators and presidential candidates from varying parties at the same time. The concept is refreshing after years of no real choice. Polling-agents from four different parties (ZANU, MDC1, MDC2 and Simba’s Movambo movement) will be present to ensure that rigging does not take place. This is a first for Zimbabwean elections, which have previously had only one opposition polling-agent observing the voting. Fears are still high that the vote will be stolen in the chaos, but the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has assured the candidates that the presidential count will be presented outside each polling station as soon as counting is done.

No matter how well things are prepared, chaos and surprises are predicted for the big day.

MDC supporters in red and Makoni supporters in yellow join together in unity

Monday, 24 March 2008

Optimist: 'A Glimmer of Hope'

In addition to the on the ground reports from Ziso we will be posting a series of articles from Optimist. Optimist writes from Harare as someone who has been around Zimbabwean politics for long. This time round she sees some cause for hope and is strongly supporting Makoni, and welcomes Fay Chung's entry into the Makoni campaign.

"The entry of Simba Makoni into Zimbabwe's presidential race broke through the darkness of recent months to give us a small ray of hope. If someone within the ruling party can stand up and disagree and challenge the seemingly all-powerful ZANU-PF political machine, maybe each of us can stand up, speak out and do something to improve life for all.

I rejoiced when Fay Chung joined Simba's movement. Fay is known for her integrity, intelligence and concern for the poor. If someone of her caliber is also willing to take the risk of challenging those who have been in charge of this country since Independence, it gives all of us a bit of courage to do what we can to bring peaceful and positive change.

It won't be easy. Few believe that the coming elections will be free and fair. The state broadcasting company blatantly favours the ruling party, although it has been forced to broadcast advertisements by all parties. The government controlled print media publishes the most nasty attacks against all opposition candidates and parties, although it too publishes their ads. I can't say whether all parties have the freedom to campaign throughout the country, but at least it seems as if there is less violence this time.

The country is full of rumours about civil war, coups, rigged elections, a Kenya scenario! Perhaps these have been planted by those in power to prevent people from voting for change. We don't know what will happen next Saturday.

We can only hope that if all those who registered go out and vote, the will of the majority will prevail."


Saturday, 22 March 2008

Ziso: 'Red and Yellow Dance for Change'

Zimbabwe, 22 March

‘Lets get Zimbabwe working again’ is the simple campaign slogan. The parliamentary and senatorial candidates travel from constituency to constituency supporting each other’s rallies. ‘Simba kuVanhu’ is the chant – ‘Power to the People’ (a clever play on words). In Hatcliffe, a crowd draws round the campaigners, skeptical at first but slowly intrigued by the speeches. Is Fay Chung going to speak in Shona? She breaks the ice with her opener, “Sei muZhingzhong anokwanisa kutaura Shona?” (“Do you wonder who is this ‘zhing-zhong’ (slang for Chinese) who can speak Shona?) “How many people here have jobs?” she asks. “Hapana!” shouts the crowd (‘we don’t have!) A punter on the street tells me, “I won’t vote for Mugabe because he’s the reason that I had to leave college. With him a doctorate holder will be forced to be a tomato vendor”. And Tsvangirai? “The last time I voted for him, but it didn’t bring any change, so I’m not voting for him this time.”

Trudy Stevenson, Arthur Mutambara, Rudo Gaidzanwa and Fay Chung

In Avondale, at Trudy Stevenson’s rally a fascinating collaboration is taking place. The red of MDC mingles with the yellow of the Makoni camp. Behind the table sits Trudy Stevenson, one of Tsvangirai’s earliest and most hard-working supporters who now protests his autocratic leadership. Beside her is Arthur Mutambara, whose withdrawal of his nomination for presidency has allowed many former MDC supporters to rally behind Makoni. Fay Chung and Rudo Gaizdanwa sit in yellow, two former members of ZANU, now women leaders in the Makoni camp. MDC slogans are shouted, “Change! Change!” followed by Makoni chants. Activists in yellow dance with MDC supporters in red, the Zimbabwean flag waving above them. There is a sense of real camaraderie between former ZANU and MDC activists, a sense of reconciliation and moving forward. Trudy reminds the crowd that people from ZANU can change, after all Morgan Tsvangirai was once a member of ZANU!

Change happening at a grassroots level

A vibrant dialogue takes place between the leaders and the crowd who burst into song at any pause. “We are not fighting the white man,” shouts the chair, “we are fighting a system that needs to be dismantled!” Mutambara is the final speaker; he is vibrant and charismatic, “Be the change you wish to see in your country.” The rally ends in song. The atmosphere is festive and colourful, the leaders black, white, Shona, Ndebele and Asian, the crowd full of MDC and ex-ZANU supporters, with the odd real war veteran and white suburban. A reminder of the rainbow nation Zimbabwe boasted of being in the eighties before the flames of racism were once more inflamed.

Anticipation is growing for the Makoni rally on Monday in Highfield, the climax of the Easter weekend.