Harare – The 2018 Zimbabwe elections have been praised as a break from the past violent polls although some polling stations were so badly organised.
By Peta Thoncroft
But overall there was no pattern of bias: that’s the brief impression of one of the most senior western observers of Zimbabwe’s elections.
He is an expert on the new voters’ roll and has been monitoring many other observers around the country all Monday.
He sounded exhausted and asked not to be named until the vote was counted and complete and the official observers’s reports were made public.
“Some indelible ink came off fingers. We saw that. Some polling stations were confused and badly organised and in those stations there was a high turn away. Or some people found, after queuing for hours, they were at the wrong polling station. So they abandoned voting.
“So far, and it is too early to make conclusions, there does not seem to have been any pattern or targeted bias. We have heard from colleagues in one or two rural areas – and this needs to be checked – there were some instances of intimidation, but not systemic or as ugly as in the past.”
The EU’s chief observer, Elmar Brok, told Reuters that “many voters particularly young women left voting queues in frustration at long delays. He said the EU has not yet concluded how to judge the vote.”
The EU had a huge squad of observers, both long term who have been in the country for about six weeks and another group who arrived in the last two weeks. They have also been working with SADC Observers.
Some of the interviews from voters, mainly from around Harare, revealed, unsurprisingly, that MDC Alliance presidential candidate, Nelson Chamisa, had huge support.
The MDC, which emerged from civil rights groups and the trade unions in 1999, has long been in control of most seats in the urban areas. But its vote has regularly been split by its allies in previous elections.
And this election too, there are many candidates in parliamentary and local government elections who are former members of the MDC but did not want to join the Alliance, and have stood as independent candidates.
But there were surprises, too.
In a small village, about 70km north east of Harare, in the Mashonaland East province, a 71-year-old grandmother did not vote for Zanu PF for the first time because she said she now felt “safe” to support Chamisa for president.
Laughing and celebrating the woman said: “We….my friends from church like sweet things, and so some of us grandmothers voted for Chamisa.”
And she roared with laughter as she told her son in Harare she had also voted – as he did – for the MDC for parliament and local government.
Rusty Markham, standing as parliamentary candidate for the MDC in a constituency which includes some of the richest people in Zimbabwe and some of the poorest who were given land by Zanu PF ahead of the previous elections, said he estimated he had 80% turnout.
Markham, previously an MDC councillor for the City of Harare, said: “I feel confident we have taken (the seat). We should know before midnight.”
Ahead of the 2013 elections, the fabulously wealthy Zanu PF local government minister, Ignatius Chombo, who persistently interfered in city council affairs around the country, wrote off all ratepayers’ debts.
In Harare’s case the write-off was three years income for the bedraggled, crumbling capital, which is till not able to supply fresh water to more then half of its residents.
Chombo was part of the G40 faction within Zanu PF which supported former president Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace.
“Eddie Best”, 43, the name used by a bank teller, married with three daughters, living in Tamara, one of Harare’s oldest townships on the far east of the city, said: “I voted for number two on the list, Chamisa and for the MDC.”
He said at these elections he remembered the late Tonderai Ndira, a prominent MDC activist who lived near him, and who was abducted from his home, at night during the campaign for the second round of the presidential election in 2008.
Ndira’s decomposing body was found in the bush ten days later: “I remember Tonde. I went to school with him.
“I will never accept the idea of (Nelson) Chamisa losing to ED (president Emmerson Mnangagwa). I have already made preparations for celebrations.”
Keleb Matsika, 46, who owns a bottle store and a butchery in the same suburb, Tafara, married with four children said he voted for Chamisa.
“I will accept any result, because we don’t want any violence as in the past because it is bad for business.”
He said he also remembered Ndira “who had such a passion” for the MDC.
“I hope there will be no violence if we have another run off as in 2008.”
Gogo Mapungwa, 76, supported the MDC.
“Times are so hard for us old widows. Our pensions are not accessible from the banks. I taught primary school for more then 40 years, and what I get as a pension does not last for three days. We spend nights sleeping at the banks to get very few dollars (in cash).
Then all of a sudden last week the banks had money to bribe us to vote for them, (Zanu PF.) (Emmeson) Mnangagwa is no different from Mugabe..they were together since 1966. I have four grandchildren, and their parents are in South Africa looking for employment and they all have degrees, but they can’t find work here at home. I am having to look after their kids doing menial jobs, because the parents are not yet employed in South Africa as there is no work there either.
“Chamisa will make jobs available as he will open industries.”
A man who declined to be named in the Harare City Centre early Monday said he was voting for Mnangagwa because he is a “reformer”.
“He has brought us the new dispensation. He got rid of Mugabe.”
Farmer and veteran of the war in white-ruled Rhodesia, calls himself Comrade Tsuro, 67, voted near his home, in the Goromonzi district about 30 kms south east of Harare: “I voted for the Zanu PF man for parliament, but I voted for Chamisa for president. We have been telling people around here to do the same, and a lot have accepted. ED (Mnangagwa) is a thief and a murderer. He killed a lot of people in Matabeleland.”
He also accused Mnangagwa of being “responsible” for the death of the former commander of the army, Solomon Mujuru, who was hugely popular and who died mysteriously in a fire seven years ago.
His widow, Joice, is standing as a candidate in the presidential election. “She should have joined Chamisa.”
In another part of this top farming area, Micah Murefu, 55, farm manager for an chicken producer said he supported Zanu PF for all three elections: “Zanu PF gave us land, brought us independence and removed Mugabe. I was a war collaborator against the Rhodesians. and I don’t like Chamisa because he is immature. He cannot run a country. Maybe in 2023 when he is matured he will be better.”
Terence Mukupe, Zanu PF parliamentary candidate, standing in what was a safe MDC seat, Harare East against Tendai Biti, a founding and senior member of the opposition, said Mnangagwa had brought “new” politics to Zimbabwe.
Mukupe, a former banker, and who has had several brushes with the law over debt, said he believed he would easily win because the old fears had gone and people believed the “new dispensation” would deliver a better economy. “There is a sense of freedom in Zimbabwe now. You can see it in the streets Mnangagwa is about rebuilding is legacy.”
He estimated Mnangagwa would take the presidency by 65%.
Biti, who has been arrested, beaten up, and previously hospitalised with injuries inflicted by Zanu PF assailants since the formation of the MDC, was cheerful ahead of voting on Monday.
He is the MDC candidate against Mukupe. He said last week, there was an attempt on his life when a vehicle unexpectedly smashed into his car.
“We have the bumper, with the number plate and reported this to the police. This was an assassination attempt,” he said.
Rugare Gumbo, long-time Zanu PF executive, and the party’s former spokesman until he was expelled by Mugabe in 2014, said from his home in central Zimbabwe: “I am surprised at the level of support for Chamisa. Very surprised.”