Zimbabwe elections: 'The rulers always win'

Residents of Zimbabwe’s best-known township harbour no illusions about next month’s elections, with many too busy struggling to survive to ponder what’s at stake.

The mood in Chitungwiza, a sprawling and dingy township south-east of Harare that is home to nearly two million people, is a mixture of apathy, disgust and hopelessness ahead of the March 31 parliamentary polls.

“What elections?” snorts Tamburai Garikai (53), her face crinkling into a grimace.

Garikai, who is unemployed, said she has lost all hope.

“Yesterday, today, tomorrow, it’s the same thing,” she said, speaking in Seke, an impoverished quarter of Chitungwiza—one of Harare’s main black townships during British colonial rule.

“The rulers always win, so what is the point of voting?” she said. “In the old days, I was working at the family planning department. My family had food on the table.
I was laid off after independence. It’s a miracle how I and my family are surviving.”

President Robert Mugabe’s governing Zanu-PF party—at the helm since independence from Britain almost 25 years ago—is expected to consolidate its stranglehold on power in the vote.

The sheer drudgery of living in a country whose once model economy is in tatters with the world’s highest inflation rate, 70% unemployment and startling poverty levels has fostered widespread apathy among Zimbabweans.

Margie Chadzera is struggling to bring up five grandchildren orphaned by Aids.

“Back then, the money was strong. You could use it,” said Chadzera, who earns hand-outs to feed her family once a day.

“Can we hope the elections will change anything? I think we can say that the same people will win,” she added.

The upcoming elections will be closely watched as a key test of Zimbabwe’s pledge to hold free and fair elections that could end the political crisis that has raged in Zimbabwe since the 2000 and 2002 elections, which were marred by violence, fraud and intimidation.

The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, which began in Chitungwiza in September 1999, has posed the stiffest challenge to Mugabe’s rule.

Last week, the MDC reluctantly decided to contest the polls even though its leaders said a free and fair vote would not be possible.

The MDC cites police harassment of its supporters, new election laws that give Mugabe the power to appoint members to a commission supervising the vote, and the proliferation of pro-government “militias” as some of the violations of democratic standards.

“I’m not at all sure about the fairness of the elections,” said a young man in his thirties, who gave his name as Chimbaira.

“The only excitement for me is the current infighting in the ruling party. At least they will focus some of their energy in putting their own house in order instead of beating up opposition supporters as usual.”

Patrick Marufu, a metalworker, said he has not decided whether to exercise his franchise.

“So far I am not getting into it very much. I will see how things go. For me my vote is my voice, I want to do what’s in my heart, not be forced to vote for someone.”

Chitungwiza was also the worst-affected area during violent food riots in 1998 when Zimbabweans went on the rampage to protest against a 21% increase in the price of cornmeal and a subsequent 30% hike in the prices of meat and bread.

The ruling party, through the state media, has been underscoring its role and that of Mugabe in freeing the Southern African country from colonial shackles, leading to independence from Britain in 1980.

Meanwhile, MDC chief Morgan Tsvangirai has voiced confidence that the elections will help end 25 years of “tyranny”, adding that Zimbabweans have realised that “neutrality or fence-sitting helps the tyrant”.—Sapa-AFP

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