Harareans don’t call their city the ”rumour capital” for nothing. This week, it delivered on its reputation.
After what was supposed to be Zimbabwe’s most important election since 1980, official information about the results was as scarce as admirers of Robert Mugabe. Just what the Harare rumour-mill needed.
Parliamentary election results were released a few at a time, scraps thrown by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to the hungry pack to keep it from rampaging.
But the assembled press mob wanted blood, and nobody was providing it.
And so they filled the hours milling around hotel lobbies where, over countless doses of caffeine, rumours were exchanged between journalists and a wide assortment of civil society types, each with a juicier story than the last.
Just as excited and rumour-prone were the Western diplomats, each of them eager to put ”Mugabe fell under my watch” in the ”achievements” sections of their CVs.
Harare’s grapevine was already buzzing by the time voting ended on Saturday evening. By dawn on Sunday, Zanu-PF had apparently been trounced and Mugabe was flying over the South Pacific. Exile awaited in Malaysia.
No, in fact, he was in rural Zvimba attending to a family bereavement. A double tragedy then, defeated and bereaved all in one day.
Not true, the better informed said. Mugabe was in fact locked up in some dark, smoky basement room with his army top brass.
The military men, sensing an impending victory for the man they had vowed never to salute, had met earlier at army headquarters, it was said.
They had been to the presidential residence, where they presented three options to Mugabe: accept defeat, try to rig the polls a bit more — obviously the boys hadn’t done it right the first time — or just go on TV and tell Morgan Tsvangirai to sod off.
The last option, it was heard, had been the most popular among the big badges.
But wait, there was a stirring in the middle and junior ranks of the army. In fact, there was a whiff of mutiny. They would resist their superiors’ attempts to resist change.
By Monday the rumour mill began churning out more informed speculation. If you had any real sources in diplomatic circles you would obviously know Mugabe was not only talking to the army. He was also on his knees, begging Tsvangirai for safe passage into retirement.
And on Tuesday night, Mugabe was due to appear on state television to declare himself the winner by 52%. No, in fact, he was preparing to concede defeat.
It had been an opposition landslide. The Zanu-PF cage had been rattled. Joice Mujuru, Mugabe’s deputy, had lost in Mount Darwin North, Mashonaland Central.
No, in fact, Zanu-PF had only lost in Mount Darwin South. Not true. Zanu-PF had actually lost all of Mashonaland Central.
It was the end of Zanu-PF that we all knew and loved. Or maybe not …