Hwange – Sinking hearts
The mood has changed. When I left Harare this morning, there was impatience and frustration that the results were not being released but still optimism that victory for the opposition was so overwhelming it would be impossible to hide.
By the time I got into Matabeleland, the texts reaching my cellphone were getting more sombre by the hour.
From Harare: â€œWeâ€™ve been here before. In the other elections when we thought the MDC had won. Then they delay and delay and finally they fix it so they can announce Mugabe and Zanu-PF have won after all. Iâ€™m starting to feel very, very apprehensive.â€
From Victoria Falls: â€œI canâ€™t sleep, I canâ€™t eat. What is going to happen?â€
From Bulawayo: â€œWe are starting to mourn. Itâ€™s now ZPF 26 MDC-Tsvangirai 25, MDC 1 House of Assembly Seats.â€
All afternoon, people have been talking nervously in ones and twos, trying to confirm the information each has gathered from text messages sent by family members across the country.
Sam told me he is originally from Bindura: â€œmy brother sent me a text message from Bindura to say it is true that Zanu-PF MP Eliot Manyika lost his seat to the MDC-T and is in police custody after shooting his driver.â€
Sipho says he has heard from a relative in Zanu-PF that five cabinet ministers have lost their seats: Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, Vice-President Joyce Mujuru, Minister of State for Security and Land Didymus Mutasa, Defence Minister Sydney Sekeramayi and Public Affairs Minister, Chen Chimutengwende.
They are desperately trying to make sense of it all. It seems like a rout â€“ but can Zanu-PF accept such a resounding defeat or will the police and army be deployed to shore up their attempt to retain power? Can Mugabe afford to step down or would he face prosecution?
WRITING ON THE WALL
Bruce says: â€œHow can they steal it this time? Everyone knows, ever-y-one (stringing out the syllables) knows the truth. They posted the results up on the blue papers.â€
In fact, I noticed that the police remained at the polling stations all day Sunday, presumably to safeguard those four flimsy sheets, attached to fences, walls and tents.
But today, the police are no longer in evidence and at one polling station I found the results sheets in the undergrowth, one of the four slightly torn at the top, all discarded. I thought it prudent to pick them up.
I listen to the international news blaring from a TV high on the wall of a coffee shop. They switch between BBC World, CNN and Sky but all are saying much the same: â€œItâ€™s neck and neckâ€¦â€ All around me viewers scoff at this. They complain that even the foreign media are â€œin on itâ€, trying to hide the truth as they see it, that Tsvangirai has won by a mile.
I compare my notes: at 7am I am given some figures provided by one of the independent monitors at the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission: they have â€œverifiedâ€ 155 of the 210 constituencies and Morgan Tsvangirai is in the lead with 58% of the vote, compared to 37% for Robert Mugabe and 5% for Simba Makoni.
Later this afternoon I receive a message that the MDC says that of the 210 parliamentary seats, they have won 99 to 96 for Zanu-PF and 15 others.
A pro-Tsvangirai friend from Bulawayo texts to say: â€œMutambara faction of the MDC wiped out here â€“ got one Senator, but all the other MPs lost their seats, including Deputy President Gibson Sibanda and Secretary General Welshman Ncube.â€
I hear on the street that an independent commission (I havenâ€™t heard of its existence up to now) is confirming similar figures to the MDCâ€™s own tallies: that Tsvangirai has won the election with 61% (MDC said 55-58%), against 26% for Mugabe (MDC said 37%) and 13% for Simba Makoni (MDC said 5-10%).
I am told of reports that the Minister of Womenâ€™s Affairs Oppah Muchunguri; the Agriculture Minister Joseph Made; the Minister of Energy and Power Development Mike Nyambuya; and the Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu have also lost their seats.
At 6pm it grows dark and I retreat into my lodgings for the night. There is a TV so I can watch the ZECâ€™s Chairman George Chiweshe ponderously announcing a few more constituency results, name by name.
Itâ€™s tedious – one has to listen out for the party name that follows the personâ€™s name, then the number of votes, then frantically do the sum and figure out who actually won and by what margin.
Then comes a text with very disturbing rumours: apparently a source inside Zanu-PF and another inside ZEC are saying that tonight, while Zimbabwe sleeps, they will announce that Robert Mugabe has won the presidential election with 52% of the vote, a move that will mean there is no second round run-off. It seems barely credible but my companions are anguished.
â€œIf this is true, if that wicked old man stays in power, then I am leaving. I cannot survive another five years of Mugabe.â€ There are unshed tears in Krisâ€™s eyes.
Others speak over each other. â€œNo, no NOâ€¦â€ â€œOh my God I canâ€™t believe they will do this.â€ â€œZimbabwe is dead if this happens.â€
Another personâ€™s cellphone pings: â€œApparently somebody in the United States is quoting a report that a CIO (Central Intelligence Office) informant says they will announce over 100 seats for Zanu-PF and 93 for MDC.â€
Someone says there is going to be hell to pay if people wake up tomorrow and find this is true. Everyone looks grim.
A text message arrives on my mobile: â€œSo it seemsâ€¦ spirits are at an all time lowâ€¦ well this time he may not get away with it. I can tell you that.â€