Africa Confidential, April 2005ZIMBABWEZimbabwe Elections 2005
What happened in Matebeleland?Print this special report
One of Africa Confidential’s special correspondents sent this
blow by blow account of election day in and around Bulawayo (also
available shortly as an AC Special Report).
Dateline 31 March - Bulawayo
I woke up early and looked out of my window. Across the road from
my hotel, you could already see a small queue meandering its way around
the white pillars marking the entrance of Bulawayo town hall. I
went out onto my balcony to get a better look. The sun was
beginning to break across the street. It was going to be a hot day.
I turned on the TV news. Both ZANU-PF and the MDC were
busily predicting convincing victories. A high-voter
turnout was also expected. I looked across the road again. The snaking
queue of people had grown considerably. Perhaps the news would be
proved right, I wondered.
9:00 a.m. One of the
hotel cleaners told me that she intends to vote for the MDC when she
gets off work at noon today. She complained about the prices of
food and public transport. She said that now she didn't have
money to pay the rent.
10:20 a.m. A man approaches
me to complain that the ink used to mark voters’ fingers [so that they
can’t vote again] is easily washed-off. He explains that it took
him and his wife five minutes with household bleach to rub the ink off.
On the road now. The atmosphere is quiet but tense; there is an air of
expectation. I visit Hamilton Primary School poll in Bulawayo
South. There is no queue. There is hardly anybody
here. I ask one of the ZANU election agents about the ink
problem. She replies that she doesn’t know what I’m talking about.
I am in Nkulumane district. The polling stations are generally on
the edge of dusty townships. The officials at the polls are wary
of journalists. They are sceptical when I produce my ID card as proof
of my accreditation and ask to talk to some ‘ordinary citizens’ after
they’ve voted. They refuse my request and tell me that I can
speak to the election agents if I want. I meet the ZANU agent at
Mandwandwe school. She says that the election has been running smoothly
so far. At Maqhawe clinic a voter approaches me to talk but we
are separated quickly by the presiding officer. The female
officer explains that I must leave immediately else she will be ‘in big
2:00 p.m. I have now moved onto Pumula
Luveve. The sun is blazing at full strength. Nevertheless
that does not deter voters at Ngwalongai Primary School, who are doing
their best to shield themselves from the sun’s glare as they wait
patiently beside the poll entrance. I am informed that I may
speak to the election agents after some wrangling with the presiding
officer. The agents concur that, so far, turnout has been
low. However, it is also agreed that the elections have been the
most peaceful so far, with none of the violence of 2000 and
2002. The MDC agent takes me aside and talks to me about the ink
they’re using at the polling station. I tell him that I plan to
look into it.
3:00 p.m. I go back to the centre of
Bulawayo. The queues at the town hall have tailed off and now
there’s only a trickle of people. I talk to Michael, an IT
consultant who voted for the MDC. He explains that politicians
‘are like nappies – they need to be changed one and a
while.’ Afterwards I visit the regional office of the
Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and ask them whether the
voting ink is readily washable. The woman behind the desk replies that
it lasts ‘for two weeks’.
5:15 p.m. I tour Bulawayo
East and South for the last time before polls close at 7 p.m.
Hardly anybody is at the polls anymore. Instead people seem to
just go about their business nonchalantly: hawking, chatting or
drinking beer. Today is a holiday so there is no official
work. At a primary school I visit in the township of Makokoba I
am surrounded by some ZANU-PF youths who demand to know what I am
doing. I explain that I am a journalist – just observing – and am
not there to interfere. They tell me, in no uncertain terms, to
get out immediately.
8:30 p.m. I phone up MP for Bulawayo
South David Coltart of the MDC. He says that there have been
widespread irregularities: people being turned away for no good reason,
MDC election agents thrown out of polling stations and a few reports of
voters washing off the ink on their fingers. I tell him that I will
call him back tomorrow.