I must confess: I am afraid of elections. This may seem paranoid to some but those who were in Zimbabwe in 2008, the last time we had elections, probably share my fears.
By and large Zimbabweans are a peace loving and friendly bunch- unless there are elections. I remember quite vividly the March 2008 election and the runoff of June. What happened in the weeks just before the June runoff is something that should not happen again to Zimbabwe or any other country.
The levels of brutality and savagery that were witnessed after President Mugabe lost the first round of voting to Morgan Tsvangirai in March were shocking to say the least. People had their wrists, arms and other limbs chopped off by thugs aligned to ZANU PF for “voting wrongly”. Lives were ended. Thousands were displaced, homes were burnt and the whole country was gripped by fear.
I was in lower six at that time and even within the confines of our mission schools the waves of fear and horrors were felt, though less acutely than in other areas. Our teachers were gathered up in the school hall and were “educated” by war veterans and ZANU PF youths on what it meant to be Zimbabweans and, more importantly, who to vote for. The school also served as a place where people from surrounding villages who were deemed supporters of the opposition were punished.
Needless to say, these measures proved to be very effective and on the 27th of June- despite Morgan Tsvangirai pulling out of the election- the few who cast their vote “voted correctly” and President Mugabe who had received about 43% of the votes in the first round was declared winner with over 85% of the votes in his favour.
Last week’s Constitutional Court ruling upholding a proclamation by President Mugabe to have elections before the 31st of July therefore dismayed many people as there are no guarantees that what happened in 2008 will not happen again.
There are no reforms to make sure that the State’s security agents will act in a non-partisan manner. Those who committed and were complicit in the atrocities of 2008 remain free and unpunished. Notorious gangs who went around beating up people in 2008 brag about it in bars. The leaders are known. Their victims see them and ask, “Where is the justice, what is to stop them from doing it again?”
Some will say despite the lack of reforms there is peace this time around. They should remember that there was some peace too before, during and immediately after the first round of voting in March 2008. Before Tsvangirai got more votes than President Mugabe. This peace, this deceptive peace must not lull us to the harsh realities of the Zimbabwean election times. This is the ominous calm before a terrible storm.
But progress has also been made, the MDC formations have been in government for close to five years now. They have exerted some kind of control; voting regulations have been slightly altered- voters are no longer required to show their folded ballot papers to the election officials, the disabled and illiterate will be assisted by friends or relatives.
We have a new constitution, and there is a time set within which election results must be announced. Not like last time when the Presidential results were not announced for more than a month after the first round of voting.
The President has also appealed for peace though he has continued his personal insults against Morgan Tsvangirai. His genuineness is also still questionable, there have been minor provocations – ZANU PF supporters playing football in a pitch booked for Tsvangirai’s rally, the tearing down of posters and the police not authorizing some MDC rallies. Or maybe the President is genuine; perhaps it is just that his supporters no longer listen to him.
There is also another difference between this year’s election and that of 2008: Social Networks. In the 2008 election there was no mobile data connection in Zimbabwe. No Facebook, no Whatsapp, no Twitter, no readily available news sites for the general public, no Baba Jukwa.
This time citizen journalism may prove decisive; rallies and press conferences will be covered not only by journalists but also by hundreds and thousands of ordinary people, atrocities committed in a remote corner of the country can be instantly reported. The pictures of perpetrators and their names will be captured.
Anonymous characters like the popular Baba Jukwa on Facebook continue to relentlessly attack and ‘expose’ the regime. A thorn in their side. Via Whatsapp Zimbabweans can send pictures, videos and information to news sites such as Nehanda Radio.
Those who seek to stifle free flow of information, and those who seek to misinform the public now have a hard time doing so, whatever the State Media houses report will be verified and questioned. Inveterate liars and peddlers of false information are exposed. Politicians themselves are questioned by the electorate on social networks.
The revolutions of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have also made African governments wary. It is no longer wise to test the will and resolve of the people.
Still, I am afraid of these elections. Afraid that they may be bloodier than the last, afraid that they may be peaceful but not fair. The unemployed youths who were used to perpetrate violence in 2008 are still unemployed, they can be used again.
But I have hope; I hope that this time we will prove our detractors wrong. I hope the elections will be peaceful, free and somewhat fair, that the losers will accept the result. Is this too much to hope for?
Whatever the outcome of the election, however it is conducted; this election is a stern test of our maturity as a nation and of our commitment to our values of Ubuntu and the ideals of our liberation struggle.
I hope we pass this test.