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.

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