As Zimbabweans face an uncertain future following the presidential and parliamentary elections last week, Harare has become the capital of rumours and jokes created to be spread virally using SMS. “Harare has literally been bitten with rumours,” writes Comrade Fatso:
Rumour rhymes with ‘ruma’, Shona for bite. Harare has literally been bitten by rumours. Our city is famed for many things but one thing specifically. The ability to turn no news into headlines. The skill of spinning no knowledge into street wisdom. The hustle of selling unconfirmed stories on a hungry parallel market. Our only non-state daily newspaper was bombed so the people’s paper is the people’s stories, nyayas that circulate like a whisper at a bottle store. Mugabe has fled to Malaysia. Morgan has 68% of the presidential vote. Mujuru has lost her seat. Morgan’s win is being broadcast live on TV. A people starved of truth begin to manufacture their own. So truths roam Harare like street kids, tapping your window at every robot. Like an undelivered text message notification ringing on your phone. Constantly.
Political jokes are spreading fast. Comrade Fatso again:
Anyone know someone with a truck? There's a guy wanting to move all his stuff from State House to Zvimba. The jokes spread as text messages refer to our aged dictator relocating to his rural home. People really do believe this is a general election – because our generals decide who gets elected. Another joke walking the streets of Harare is that the only difference between an election and an erection is that you can't rig the latter.
It is shocking how the media in South Africa and that emanating mainly from countries in Europe and North America has gone ahead and made bold declarations about Zimbabwe’s recent election without paying much attention to the legal proceedings that dictate the unfolding of events here.
1. they have been drumming up since before voting closed been declaring that the president, Robert Mugabe, as lost the election, and the blitz has been so total that the intention seems to be to convince the whole world that the desired outcome of people not in Zimbabwe, who did not vote, becomes the dominant perception and in a way, reality.
2. the bias on the commentary on the satellite TV station is not surprising, but it is surprisingly anti most of the ethics and values you associate with the ‘independent press.’
3. the media went on for days about how the president and the ruling party were attempting to ‘rig’ the election. The opposition has gone on to declare victory unilaterally before any of the processes stated under law are complete which are actually slow by their nature and based on the nature of this most recent election. No one is accusing the opposition of ‘stealing’ the election. Where is the balance there? Imagine the President had declared himself the winner Sunday morning. What would those same ‘defenders of democracy’ have stated?
a. The same opposition which woke up the morning after the election is claiming fraud is now claiming that the same fraudulent election is one which they have won… how?
b. The same people who stated last night that they will wait for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to issue the official results and that they will follow the official results have now gone and stated that they will declare victory based on their own results which they have collated [some of which I have seen and are very different to what has been the actual results]. Yet the same media stations are accepting, tolerating and even promoting all of this.
c. Imagine if the government had done the same – the outrage, and retaliation by the ‘international community.’
Then when Robert Mugabe rages on about his fight against imperialism and western domination, and western bullying and the lack of respect of the principles of sovereignty, people say he is a disgruntled old dictator? Wouldn’t you be upset if you were in his position everyday for 15 years?
He explains why the results have not been coming in as fast as most people expected:
There is a very interesting process which I have been so privileged to observe from a front row seat. As I write, election results are being announced from difference races across the country, they are appearing slowly, but surely. I think it is important to give a context to how this election has been set up:
There are 4 different elections happening simultaneously: local council elections, lower house parliamentary seats [House of Assembly], the Upper House of parliament [The Senate] and the Presidency. There are 1 958 local council seats up for election in 1 958 wards around the country, there are 210 House of Assembly seats up for grabs, there are sixty senate seats and one presidential seat. Now each one of these positions has at least two candidates contesting, with some having as many as seven candidates (and in other cases more). So there are a lot of people involved in contesting for all the elected offices in zimbabwe.
The post-voting electoral process
The process itself, that has come about out of a series of negotiations between the government and the opposition over the course of the past 12 months has meant that significant changes have been made to the electoral law in the country. New law requires that every polling station counts their ballots AT the station – this is in order to avoid rigging or tampering with ballot boxes in transit to any other location. This has been done in accordance with the law in every case. In a ward, you can get up to 3 or 4 polling stations depending on population data. In a constituency, you can get as many as 15 wards. This means that per constituency you get about 60 polling stations.
When the voting is done in that polling station, counting for all four seats begins – the local council, the lower house, the upper house and the presidency. For each candidate, there is a polling agent present to preside over the counting and to contest what they may deem to be deviations from due process or law. A result is only official when all the polling agents agree to it; hence in the case where there are disputes, this can take a while. Now remember, that this is happening for every single ballot, and every candidate's representatives can argue their cause. When a final result is reached and agreed upon by all parties and everyone signs to confirm such, the result for that polling station is posted on the entry way to that station. The official result is then sent to the ‘Command Center’ of that constituency. So in each constituency, they would have to wait for all sixty or so polling stations to reach that agreement, and then send the results to a central place where they are collated, and again agreed upon by all the Chief Election Agents of the candidates [if they chose to have agents represent them] and then a final result is reached.
The mistake most people are making is that they see the result outside one polling station, take that as the overall result and then cry “that results are out. Why are they not being announced” and are completely ignorant of the process that must be taken to ensure that all parties involved at that local level are satisfied.
If there was rigging, Dumisani argues, it was mostly done by the opposition:
The international news media is buzzing with stories about how these delays are being caused by the government trying to buy time and rig the election. I think that is all the elections I have participated in and observed in Zimbabwe, this has been the most free, fair and competitive election. There was almost no violence leading up to the election. For the first time, you actually had a lot of oppositions parties using main stream including government controlled media to campaign and having access to the electorate almost on par with the government [I saw almost, because the government always has the advantage of incumbency. If a government minister is commissioning a new project for example, that is a ‘national duty’ and not a political meeting so the electoral rules don't necessarily apply, but any smart operator would use that platform to plug for their cause]. This doesn't mean that everything about the period leading up to the election was fair, but I think the environment really has allowed for people to express their will.
Even the post-election process I feel has provided for much more fairness than before. What is really surprising to me is the extent to which immediately after the election was done, the main opposition (the MDC party led by Morgan Tsvangirai) went on a global media blitz claiming the election is being rigged and already setting up an environment for those who are either not really aware of the details of the process, or who are far removed from it to prejudge all that is happening. I was really surprised by this and think it to be a really sleazy tactic.
Rigging, if it is taking place, is not happening with people stuffing boxes full of paper etc. It is happening on very technical grounds where those who are least informed on electoral law and procedure don't know how to play the game fully.
Most people reading this will be surprised by what I am about to say, but in my observations, I saw the greatest cases of foul play [call it rigging if you will] coming from the opposition. And their methodology for this is very sophisticated. Let me try and explain…
When we were children, there was a tactic where if there was a dispute between us as kids playing together, lets say, one kid hits another, the initiator of the transgression would run to an adult and cry the loudest and claim they were hit. The adult would run out in response and to the surprise of everyone watching would lash out at the person who actually was smacked in the first place, but it was too late, the initiative had been lost by the ‘victim’. It was a smart tactic which worked most of the time, but it left the person who was really hit feeling very, very unjustly treated.
A similar thing has happened in this election from what I have seen. The MDC has run out screaming that we've been cheated, there is rigging etc. they've smartly managed tog et everyone watching the wrong place while they smugly cook the books where they can. It's a very close election in most cases so every point counts. Let me give you examples of what I mean, without mentioning specific locations and situations as this could have legal implications.
The widespread belief is that the government will rig the election because it is so popular that it cannot win the election fairly. They say it will rig it because it has deployed civil servants to oversee the election. In reality, the people who have the greatest animosity towards the government are civil servants. Teachers, Nurses, Police etc. they are the lowest paid people in the country and yet have the most expected from them. So we found in 3 places, and I think this is a sample behavior of what you would find nation wide, whereby you had electoral officials, employed by the government trying to work things in favor of the opposition.
Kubatana asked their SMS subscribers to text their dreams for a new Zimbabwe:
In addition to inviting email contributions, we also asked our many SMS subscribers what a new Zimbabwe looks like to them. Read some of their ideas below, and text your dreams for a new Zimbabwe to +263912452201
• We need fuel to be available in service stations, to access forex in the banks, free primary education, affordable health delivery system and cheap food for all
• New Zimbabwe – new constitution by the people for the people.
• Good international relations then total globalization
• Changes(1)Re-currency(coins¬es)(2)Stop paying war vets(3)Reduce gvt ministries(4) promote industrial &agric investment
• Racial integration – equal opportunities 4 blacks and whites etc eg cricket team, sustainable labour laws, respect 4 property rights, free market, free media, just want more!
• We should never again leave power in the hands of one man.
• Truth and reconciliation commission. . . Clean the mess and corruption in councils and parastatals and c.i.o. . .
• Fill up shops with goods. We don’t want black markets. Open up closed industries.
• Free the airwaves, scrap aippa, posa & indigensation bill, give back tertiary students financial assistance
• In the new free Zim govt policies should be worker friendly iregardless of sectors. reduce income tax and stabilise economy and mend international relations.
• We want the new govt to free the airwaves.
• Pres M Tsvangirai and MDC should be left alone to form a cabinet & govt no links to corrupt zanu pf officials
• We need proper education for our children. Also to have money not bearer cheques with these shit useless billions. We want to use coins and proper notes.
• Mugabe and the crew should respect the will of the people enough is enough unless if they declare one party state then the electorate will know. We want those results to be announced we are part of sadc we should abide by the rules that govern that body period.
• No political beatings, many newspapers, tv stations, cheap goods, electricity, clean water, hospitals and jobs
It has been reported that Zanu PF youth showed up at headquarters of the main opposition dressed as MDC members:
Yesterday afternoon, Zanu PF youths dressed in the regalia of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party visited the MDC’s headquarters at Harvest House in Harare, saying that “we must demonstrate on the streets”.
Fortunately, the MDC received prior warning and the situation was defused.
This was followed by an intelligence report earlier this morning that Zanu PF had called in youths to their headquarters in Harare. They were told that the MDC had brought back all of the white people from the region to take back the farms. They were also fed the traditional Zanu PF rhetoric that Zimbabweans – through their voting – have demonstrated they no longer believe.
According to our sources, they were then planning to march to Harvest House and provoke a situation. Riot police have been put on stand by to “deal with any situations”.
A report just received from the Masvingo in the south of the country warns that armed men are being deployed in the rural areas.
Zimbabwe is on a knife edge. The MDC says it is absolutely essential for South Africa and neighbouring countries to act now as the situation is extremely volatile.
The Zimbabwean government has acted with ruthlessness in the past and all indications are that it will do so again.
There has been a lot of discussions about Mugabe's practical options. Hope comes up with four options:
What are Mugabe’s options realistically?
1. Go through the run-off against Tsvangirai and unleash violence on the people and rig the result to the last paper in the box. I am hoping he is too arrogant to do this (as my UK friend seems convinced of now), but what if he does do this? We just need to prepare and stay calm and keep our eye on the ball. What’s different now is he has to go through a run-off in the face of a nation that already knows he is a loser and in a weak position. He also has to do it with the world staring at him like he’s an insect under a microscope.
2. Avoid the run-off and retire. I hope so, but this will involve losing face so it’s a hard one for me to imagine him doing as much as I would like too.
3. Try to bluff it out and declare himself the outright winner and refuse a run-off. This is very Mugabe-esque to me, but he has to deal with the uncertainty of how the world and the people will react. It isn’t that I think he cares about what anyone thinks – he doesn’t – its more that I’m not sure how he can ever begin to hope to solve the crisis facing him with hyper-inflation etc, if the world thinks he has stolen the election. He needs legitimacy to get the help and investment he needs. At the end of the day, its the economy that’s his biggest enemy, not the opposition. Poverty speaks directly to our lives; not even Mugabe has come with an AIPPA-like law that can silence those truths.
4. The final option is the talk, the fear that everyone has been expressing tonight with the latest news – of him avoiding a run-off by imposing military rule. Maybe, but this must be kept in perspective.
Lastly, from This is Zimbabwe blog, “This time last week we voted for freedom“:
… and a week later we know we got it, but we’re waiting for the ‘official’ confirmation. I have to put the word ‘official’ in quote marks because anything ‘official’ coming out of the Zimbabwean government is usually a pack of lies and designed to prop up a certain old man.
I just learned that the MDC’s attempt to go to court to force ZEC to announce the result we are all waiting to hear was thwarted by armed police…