Ruth Weiss: Zimbabwe before the elections (34)


So it is done: on the cold winter morning of July 31, huge numbers of Zimbabweans turned out to make their X.

However, ominous tension is mounting, for it is far from clear whether everyone made their X for the party and the man of their choice. MDC was in shock, as Zanu-PF claimed victory ahead of official announcements. MDC top leaders lost seats, with almost all 20 Manicaland seats gained in 2008 taken by Zanu-PF. Unconfirmed results indicate a massive Zanu-PF parliamentary majority. MDC's David Coltart who lost his Bulawayo seat by some 19 votes, accepted the result but said the election was illegal. He handed SADC a letter detailing six serious breaches of Electoral law and the Constitution, including the fact that he had not received an electronic voters' roll to which he was entitled.(1)

Even before counting was completed, Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF triumphantly claimed what looks like a landslide victory, while reports of sundry intimidation and irregularities abound. MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai said the election was a farce and declared it "null and void". The latter is of course irrelevant, as the AU was quick to declare the election free and fair. However, independent observers say that some million voters were unable to cast their votes and that Mugabe's support was inflated by repeat- and ghost voters. It thus looks like a disputed result, with the country set for another period of autocratic rule and unrest.(2)

The reputable Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) said at a Harare press conference that Wednesday's election was "seriously compromised" by a "systematic effort to disenfranchise an estimated one million voters". Rural areas reported an almost 100% turnout with urban centres around 68%, where at 82% of polling stations potential voters were turned away for various reasons, compared with 38% in rural areas. Zesn also declared the election compromised by pre-election state media bias, intimidation by chiefs and Zanu-PF, harassment of civil society groups and lack of meaningful voters' education.(3)

Veteran MDC activist, former farmer Roy Bennet, said Mugabe and Zanu-PF have stolen the election and called for national-wide non-violent protest to bring everything to a standstill.(4)

Indeed the pertinent question was asked by John Campbell: what will Tsvangirai and MDC do now? (5)

Neither the run-ip nor the elections themselves provided much confidence.

At least there was little violence, as one diplomat said lamely, while acknowledging the systematic shenanigans und numerous anomalies in the voters' roll, copies of which were only supplied to the parties by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) on the eve of the election on instructions by a court. The names of presiding officers were also only released a day before the event. Ballot papers clearly indicated Zanu-PF, with other parties difficult to identify; many thousands were turned away as their names were mysteriously missing; others were found to be registered in places where they had never lived and were too far for them to reach. Polling was slow, with Zanu-PF and war veteran intimidation reported in some areas, while police, theoretically barred from polling stations, "assisted" a large number of voters. The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe (CCJP) recorded 47 cases of intimidation and said it was concerned that many were turned away with their names not on the voters roll and with reports of observers stopped from entering polling stations. Zanu-PF bases had been set up in some centres, with people stopped and questioned as how they had voted. The trouble was mainly in the towns such as Bulawayo and Harare, with voting in Mugabe's strongholds proceeding briskly and smoothly. Dr Solomon Zwana of Zesn which oversaw 7,000 observers, spoke of real concern at the numbers of people turned away. There were also signs that some people voted under duress. One fake polling station manned by a Zanu-PF activist was discovered. Buses ferrying Zimbabweans from South Africa were impounded at the border, leaving passengers stranded; some 111 would-be voters were arrested at the border.(6)

Both President Robert Mugabe and his rival. MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai had held their last rallies in Harare. Tsvangirai's rally almost didn't happen, with the police first banning it, claiming they lacked the necessary personnel and feared the event would turn violent. However MDC turned to the Court and as the police was anxious not to be exposed to criticism by election observers, it finally allowed the gathering with strict conditions.

In the event, the two gatherings were very different, in tone and spirit.MDC supporters turned out as if for a festival, toy-toying, singing and laughing, with Tsvangirai's speech one of conciliation. He declared that he had no wish to be consumed by embittered resentment and that he forgave his enemies who had slandered and tortured him. Mugabe's rally had all the hallmark of rent-a-crowd, with few actually listening to their leader's often repeated hate-tale of Zanu-PF's achievement as a liberator, his view of MDC as a western puppet, with the former colonisers anxious to return.(7)

Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) was accused by Tsvangirai of incompetence, having failed to provide political parties with the voters' roll or full details concerning polling stations. The chaotic voters' roll contained ghost voters, with some 2m first-time voters not registered. MDC had also questioned the excessive number of ballot papers printed. Moreover, Tsvangirai's polling officer Morgan Komichi had produced a batch of Special Vote ballot papers in favour of Tsvangirai which had been found in a rubbish bin. Oddly enough the MDC official was arrested and held without bail for refusing to disclose the name of his informant.(8) MDC's Tendai Biti said they had proof that ballot boxes would be stuffed in nine Mashonaland constituencies.(9) MDC-Ncube feared vote rigging in Bulawayo, with three times the number of ballot papers needed sent by Zec to the city.(10) Zec chairperson Rita Makarau conceded irregularities, saying special vote ballot papers had been duplicated by "mistake".(11) MDC-T claimed that Zec personnel were sidelined with security agents actually in charge.(12) Zec refused to accredit the Joint Implementation and Monitoring Committee (Jomic), set up under the Global Political Agreement (GPA).(13) In the final spurt before the election Zanu-PF intimidation increased, witnessed by SADC and other observers.(14) Thus in one incident an ex-Brigadier Livingstone Chineka told frightened villagers that liberation fighters were never too old to fight Tvangirai, if he won the elections. Several watchdog bodies have repeated the allegations that elections would not be fair and free.(15) Three observers were not allowed entry, despite Zec accreditation. Three journalists were arrested with allegedly contravening the harsh media laws. (16)

Zanu-PF spin doctor Jonathan Moyo said that Mugabe would remain in power, even if he lost. while Mugabe said on the eve of the election that he had not cheated.(17)

It seemed as if the official announcement had almost become irrelevant, with the country poised for disappointment.

  1. SW Radio Africa 1.8
  2. Mail and Guardian 1.8, SW Radio 1.8 AFP 1.8, AP 1.8
  3. ZESN Press conference 1.8, via Dispatches: Major Flaws in Zimbabwe's Elections | Human Rights Watch [HYPERLINK: http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/08/01/dispatches-major-flaws-zimbabwe-s-elections] 1.8, AP 1.8, The Zimbabwean 1.8
  4. Mail and Guardian 1.8, SW Radio Africa 1.8, AFP 1.8, AP 1.8
  5. Africa in Transition: Zimbabwe Elections: A Sham 1.8
  6. The Zimbabwean IK 31.7, Mail and Guardian 31.7, SW Radio Africa 31.7, Telegraph UK 31.7, Zim. Independent 31.7
  7. SW Radio Africa 30.7
  8. SW Radio Africa 30.7
  9. Daily News 30.7
  10. Voice of America Zim. 30.7
  11. Daily News 30.7
  12. Voice of America Zim 30.7
  13. Zim. Independent 30.7
  14. Daily News 30.7
  15. SW Radio Africa 30.7
  16. SW Radio Africa 30.7
  17. New Zimbabwe 30.7, SAPA-AFP30.7, Mail and Guardian 30.7

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