It’s an Election… but not as we know it
Just two days before the elections in Zimbabwe, Santos still hadn’t decided which presidential candidate to vote for.
(He ruled out a vote for Mugabe with an emphatic sideways shake of his head and a guttural click of the tongue.) He outlined the pros and cons:
Tsvangirai, the former trade union leader turned opposition party leader, is seen as an honest man, on the side of the people and above all, Mugabe’s arch-rival.
He has been battling for 8 years at the head of the Movement for Democratic Change, winning votes but losing successive elections until in-fighting split his party into two factions.
The MDC says the results were rigged in 2000, 2002 and again in 2005 and that seems to be what most Zimbabweans believe.
“Maybe President Robert Mugabe is just too wily for him; he will never let him win, just as he has been saying again and again in his speeches: ‘Akosoze’ – never, ever”.
Former SADC Secretary-General and ex-Finance Minister Simba Makoni on the other hand was an insider in the Zanu-PF establishment until he broke ranks this year to stand as an independent.
“I am not convinced Makoni is not still one of them,” says Santos’s friend Tedi.
The two men confer. “He didn’t speak out against what Zanu-PF was doing all those years, until now. But he is an educated man, a clever man and maybe he has the secret support of powerful men inside the party.”
Santos was talking to me just hours after Simba Makoni’s campaign wagon had rolled out of town.
The candidate didn’t turn up in person – he sent a local hero Dumiso Dabengwe in his stead to address rallies in Hwange and Victoria Falls in western Matabeleland.
Several thousand people had turned up, among them the grizzled heads of former Zipra liberation fighters, almost mobbing the Makoni team in their keenness to get hold of a campaign t-shirt.
But in a town where few people can afford to buy clothes, was this a sign of allegiance to the upstart, or just a pragmatic grab of free shirts on offer?
Mrs Moyo was there handing out the shirts. She and her husband are supporters of Arthur Mutambara, the leader of the other faction of the MDC, which has swung behind the Makoni campaign.
With a broad grin she told me “support is building day by day”.
One poll (by the Mass Public Opinion Institute in Harare) suggests Tsvangirai has 28% of popular support against 20% for Mugabe and a mere 9% for Makoni.
On the ground it is difficult to gauge.
Anecdotal evidence suggests more people turn out voluntarily for the MDC leader than for the President, provided the opposition political rallies go ahead as planned.
Zanu-PF tactics are said to include block-booking of the stadiums, unexpected power cuts midway through opposition rally speeches and the impounding of a helicopter that was meant to fly MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai to campaign events.
Rumours are everywhere: that by presidential order the printers producing the ballots for Saturday’s four polls, printed three million duplicate forms; that the voters’ roll is filled with the names of the dead or impossibly elderly (the ‘ghost’ voters), while some of those entitled to vote find their names are mysteriously not on the register; that the international observers who were allowed in by ‘Comrade Bob’ are only accredited until Saturday, so will not be at the sinister National Command Centre which will count the ballots in the presidential race.
Four million Zimbabweans living abroad in the diaspora have been disenfranchised, but a postal vote was compulsory for an estimated 400,000 police and army who will be on duty on polling day, and who allegedly were ordered to vote Zanu-PF under the supervision of senior officers.
Zanu-PF has blatantly handed out food, seed, agricultural implements, cars, buses and billion-dollar pay hikes to public sector workers – none of which the country can afford – during the election campaign.
The party’s propaganda occupies hours of TV and radio broadcasting and fills the state-owned press while the opposition struggles to get any air time.
In Thursday’s state-run newspapers, Zanu-PF full-page advertisements run on alternate pages, with just a single quarter-page ad for Simba Makoni and none for the MDC.
But, unlike prior elections, this year there has been little evidence of violent harassment of the opposition.
Cynics say that is because Mugabe knows he has already stitched up the result.
And yet they still dare to hope that this time, the weight of numbers will be so overwhelming that it will be impossible to hide the truth: that with few exceptions the whole nation is waving the red card at the ‘old man’ in State House.