Francis Mushangwe tied his chicken to the fence around the polling station on the outskirts of Makonde before casting his vote in Zimbabwe's sixth general election on Saturday 29 March 2008.
This article was first
published in The
Zimbabwean, an independent newspaper based in England and circulated
widely in southern Africa
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An over-officious and unsympathetic policeman had told him that he could not take the chicken into the polling-station. Francis had to choose between running the risk that his chicken might not be there when he returned or not vote at all.
But like millions of Zimbabweans he was determined to vote. On emerging from the polling station and relieved to discover that his chicken was still there, he whispered the opposition slogan: "Chinja - I have voted for change."
Mashonaland West is no place to advertise one's opposition to President Robert Mugabe's rule - notwithstanding the fact that early independent reports of the voting results appear to confirm pre-election predictions of a win for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai. During the terror that swept the countryside in the past two months, scores of opposition supporters have been harassed by marauding bands of self-styled "war veterans" and "green bombers".
The intimidation has been felt in Zvimba, Mugabe's home village sixty-five kilometres west of the capital Harare, where a mob supporting the ruling Zanu (PF) razed an opposition candidate's home to the ground before the election. Mashonaland West also encompasses Chegutu East, one of the constituencies where the tally of voters on the roll (25,059) does not tie up with the number of voters listed on the official Zimbabwe electoral commission (ZEC) rolls (31,226).
many articles on Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe:
Bev Clark, "Mass evictions in Zimbabwe" (13 June 2005)
Netsai Mushonga, "Two nights in Harare's police cells" (5 December 2005)
Andrew Meldrum, "Zimbabwe between past and future" (23 June 2006)
Conor O'Loughlin, "Zimbabwean travails" (13 September 2006)
Stephen Chan, "Farewell, Robert Mugabe" (20 March 2007)
Wilf Mbanga, "Happy birthday, Robert Mugabe" (21 February 2007)
Michael Holman, "Dizzy worms in Zimbabwe" (13 September 2007) The Zimbabwean was told on election-day that "re-education camps" were organised in this region to bludgeon the electorate into voting for the ruling Zanu (PF).
Karemba Jephat, the house-of-assembly candidate in Makonde of the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC, has been under constant harassment by a suspected Zanu (PF) mob. He is standing against newspaper publisher Kindness Paradza, an independent candidate formely with Zanu (PF), Risipa Kapesa of Zanu (PF), and Sibangilizwe Mhlani of the faction of the MDC led by Arthur Mutambara.
At a rural shopping-centre in Makonde, a dozen so-called war veterans and green bombers in brand new Zanu (PF) T-shirts had built their campfire near the polling-station.
Staring menacingly at the long queue of voters, which snaked its way round the breeze block shacks, they contented themselves with drinking the local brew, Scud. Their work had already been done. "You are wasting your time. The MDC will never rule this country", a bloodshot-eyed war veteran in a filthy red beret shouted. "We will never allow it."
For hours the voters ignored the rambling Zanu (PF) mob and continued queueing, sheltering from the blistering heat under the lemon trees, waiting for their turn to vote. The lines moved painfully slowly, but never seemed to diminish. They kept coming in their thousands: women with babies strapped to their backs, old men hobbling on wooden sticks, and huge numbers of young people, few of whom have jobs and all of whom are voting for the first time.
Many were turned away after being told they could not vote because they were not on the electoral roll, their identity papers were not in order, or because the supplementary electoral roll (which records late registrations) had failed to arrive.
The dutiful ZEC officials meticulously recorded their details on forms headed "Particulars of Persons Denied the Vote".
A rowdy gang of Zanu (PF) green bombers showed up at the polling-station with orders to scare away the hundreds of voters waiting patiently at the school gates. The youth militia noisily and provocatively jumped the queue, then peeled off their jackets to reveal identical T-shirts emblazoned with Mugabe's face.
Punching the air, they chanted Zanu (PF) slogans and jabbed their boots towards young women crouched on a grass verge, accusing them of being opposition supporters.
For a few moments the hum of conversation was stilled. Then an elderly man who had been sitting on a brick wall stood up and shouted at the green bombers: "Your time is up, you are finished. It's the end of the road for your regime."
The militia scanned the faces of the crowd staring back at them. Only days ago these people would have run. Not any more. They stood their ground and the green bombers walked away.
The elderly Moses Chigwango, the man who had confronted the Zanu (PF) youths, told how thirty years ago he and Robert Mugabe were guerrillas in exile in Mozambique, fighting the chimurenga (war of independence).
When this father of eight is asked what he thinks of his old comrade now, his answer is to spit on the ground and say "traitor": "I never thought I would see the day when we buy a loaf of bread for 20 million Zimbabwe dollars."
The scores of people around him nodded; several shook his hand. There is a sense that the months of intimidation have failed to dent most Zimbabweans' desire to rid themselves of Mugabe's regime, even here, a place touted as a ruling-party stronghold.
By marking their cross on the four ballot-papers on election-day, some here risked their lives. At 7pm sharp, the polling-station closed. In this single corner of Zimbabwe, many said they eagerly await the results that they feel could change their lives forever.
See also: Will Robert Mugabe still lead Zimbabwe on May 1st? market on the openDemocracy Inkling Markets.
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