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.