Elections & Heartbreak: A report from Zimbabwe

Much-anticipated elections in Zimbabwe in July did not result in what Zimbabwean activists had hoped and worked for. Tendai Carter shares his very personal reflections on the results of another ‘business-as-usual’ election in the country.

It’s 4am, August the 1st, 2013 and I am lying in bed desperately waiting for official election results. Live blogs posting unofficial results and reports on social media so far indicate that President Mugabe is leading. By August the 3rd, the whole world crumbled in my face as I reflected on how Zimbabweans, myself included, were going to manage yet another five years under the dictator’s rule. Robert Mugabe, we have now been told, won the election by a 61.9% margin and Morgan Tsvangirai managed to get 34.4% of the total votes cast.

What really happened, where we did we go wrong, is change going come to us, am I going to live until that day I will sing ‘Uhuru has come’ or will it remain ‘not yet Uhuru‘? These questions run through my mind now and here I am asking myself and as I reflect on this hard road that we have travelled as Zimbabweans, I can think of only one thing: my activism.

I developed a full time addiction to political activism in 2008 and as a result I got an immediate Zimbabwean-style initiation by soldiers who abducted and tortured me for distributing flyers which incited people to boycott paying their rates because we were under the leadership of an illegally appointed commission. In fact, I did not intend to incite people; instead I wanted to give people an insight into the adverse effects of funding an illegal local government. For another 5 years, I became a subservient citizen under the auspice of a government of national unity. Why? Robert Mugabe had refused to give up power and Morgan Tsvangirai told us that he will not go into office stepping on dead bodies. Hope, yes: I had hoped and trusted in the man popularly known as Zimbabwe’s own Moses.

The tone is set, the die is cast and Moses is now in government. He gets in with a compendium of reforms starting with the security sector, the media and elections chief amongst other things. Along the way he manages to win some of the battles but Mugabe remains adamant and fails to give in on the issue of security sector reform. Towards the end of 2012 Mugabe threatens to call for elections and Moses banks on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to stand by him. The ‘no elections without reforms‘ mantra was manifested. Bickering kills progress in government and the constitution-making process gives us a ray of hope. I went to vote “yes” because of one thing: I wanted to reduce my President’s term of office and yes, my vote managed to do that. His term is now two years but alas, he wants to contest again and this section of the constitution will only be functional after ten years!!! So I’m asking myself, Mugabe is 89 and next year he is 90, what new idea does he have for me … ?! The worst was yet to come.

As civil society we conclude that an election without reforms will not bring any change in view of respecting and protecting the peoples’ vote but Mugabe goes ahead and he unilaterally declares July 31 as the election date despite SADC’s call for the implementation of reforms. The mobile voter registration process was slowed in urban areas with very limited teams servicing Harare but in the rural areas there were many teams manning the process which saw many rural folks registering to vote other than their urban counterparts. Three weeks before election, the police goes to vote and the process simply exposed how the Zimbabwe Elections Commission’s (ZEC) unpreparedness to handle the election. The word chaos can not sufficiently describe the situation that was obtaining at that moment and Zimbabweans were unanimous on the need to postpone elections. Civil society pointed out that the environment is not yet conducive and vehemently calls for the re-shuffling of the Zimbabwe Elections Commission and other commissions including the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission. Sadly, our very own Moses betrayed us. Mugabe began to conduct piecemeal reforms, appointing human rights violators as part of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission ahead of elections and Moses defended the appointment. Ok, he is human and bound to make mistakes but they say to err is human and to blame someone is politics so we kiss and make up.

This time the election date is drawing closer and the election fever is growing bigger and bigger and our hope for reforms grows thinner and thinner. Nothing seemed to be in place to guarantee a free and fair election. The election is already being rigged at this moment at a very technical level. The registrar general Tobaiwa Mudede is refusing to release the voters roll for everyone to see and audit and one week before elections he gives President Mugabe his electronic copy of the voters roll. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC – Morgan Tsvangirai’s party) has no copy of the voters roll, civil society is being denied access and it’s only on the eve of the election that Mudede releases a hard copy of the roll which was delivered in two truck-loads for the MDC’s perusal.

On polling day the election was being rigged. People (those perceived to be opposition) were being turned away because their names did not appear on the voters roll. Zanu-PF was bussing people from the rural areas to vote in MDC strongholds in the urban areas. In some areas ZANU-PF used traditional leaders to escort village residents who were instructed to say that they were not literate hence they needed assistance in voting. Some polling stations opened later during the day in most MDC strongholds and this impacted heavily on those who wanted to vote. The MDC is hopeless, the African Union observer mission points out that the election is being conducted in a very peaceful manner. It later concludes that election was peaceful, free and fairly fair and proceeds to endorse Robert Mugabe as president simultaneously giving a number of recommendations for the Zimbabwe Election Commission to improve on its work. This does not help Zimbabwe at all. Here I am, back at square one I find myself in no-man’s land…

I slept as early as 7pm, heartbroken and thinking about my future. The return of the useless Zimbabwe dollar, the muzzling of our civic operating space under a ZANU PF government and the mere fact that Mugabe is my President. I woke up from a bad nightmare on the 1st of August at 4am, the day after elections and I patiently waited for the official election results. Mugabe is leading but surely his lead is not the end of my world.

I tell myself yes, one day we shall seat by the wayside, celebrating the people’s victory. It can take ten, twenty or fifty years but if I give up, my children will judge me I will be a subject of the next generation’s political analysis in retrospect. As a young turk, activism remains an integral part of me and I will use all that is in me and at my disposal to fight the illegitimate regime of Robert Mugabe until my dream comes true. Yes I believe change will come. They may think that we are fools, no, no we are not, no we not quiet, no we are not under control, our minds are not under control, our thoughts and plans are not under control, we are not happy and I know that very soon the people shall speak…

Tendai Carter Muchada is an information-activist based in Harare, Zimbabwe. He can be reached via carterchra (at) gmail