The funny business of a free and fair election

The funny business of a free and fair election

Election observers too busy to observe, car chases with Zanu thugs, and always a Mugabe nephew just round the corner, Eric de Jong describes a typical day in a free and fair election.

I travelled up to Zimbabwe on Tuesday, March 25 to help the MDC (Tsvangirai) faction with election preparations. I volunteered to help three candidates: Joseph Mutsvanga from Zvimba East, Knox Danda from Zimbabwe West and Edward Musumbu from Norton. For those who don’t know, Zvimba is around 80 kilometres from Harare and is the area where Robert Mugabe was born. As such it is regarded as the Zanu (PF) heartland. The job I was given was to help prepare food packs for the MDC polling agents and to assist with deployment of the agents on the Friday before the election.Knox Danda was unable to attend our final planning meeting on the Friday morning. He had been placed under house-arrest by Nelson Samkange, the Zanu (PF) candidate. Samkange was the former governor of Mashonaland West. Knox was told that he would be beaten or killed if he left his house to campaign on the Friday. Or what remained of his house! Half of Knox’s home was burnt down by Samkange’s thugs on Thursday, March 13 in an attack that followed an MDC rally.
Knox reported the incident to the police station 15 kilometres away, but unfortunately the police said they were unable to attend. Two weeks later and still the police had not reacted to the arson, despite being given the names of the perpetrators. Busy, busy, busy these Zimbabwean policemen!Observers unable to leave hotel.
Knox sent three of his polling agents to attend our planning meeting in his absence. All had been beaten by Samkange’s thugs at the rally on the 13th. Once again, the police had not yet been able to respond to the reports of assaults.
After we finished our planning meeting, I took one of the beaten polling agents to see one of the election observer teams. We got in to see the pan-African team. I explained to them that our candidate was unable to campaign on the last day before elections. Whilst they agreed that this was indeed unfortunate, they said they were unable to leave their office in the Meikles Hotel. I said that this was unacceptable. They suggested I return at 1pm to meet with the head of their delegation, the Honorable Khumalo. This I did.
The Honorable Khumalo agreed that the fact that our candidate had his house burnt down was unfortunate. Ditto his inability to campaign. Ditto the numerous beatings that had been meted out to MDC supporters. But he was unfortunately unable to travel to Zvimba to meet with Knox. The soonest he would be able to do so would be the Sunday – the day after the election. Take it or leave it. I said I’d take it and made arrangements to take him out on the Sunday to show him the ruins of both Knox’s house and his election campaign.
Whilst I was meeting with the observers, deployment of the agents was taking place. With our limited resources – three pick-up trucks and a Mazda sedan – deploying nearly 700 brave men and women across the width and breadth of the three constituencies was a mammoth task that took the whole of Friday night.
It did not pass without incident. At 2am at Hilbre Estates in the Zvimba East constituency one of our drivers was brutally assaulted by a Central Intelligence Organisation operative. Coincidentally, he was a close relative of Robert Mugabe and a candidate in the local government elections. Mutandirwa chased the MDC driver in his pick-up truck and tried to run him off the road on numerous occasions. The assault was reported to the Nyabira Police Station but they were too busy to react.
John Stanton, a friend from Johannesburg, and I set out early on the Saturday morning with Nixon the chief election agent and two other polling agents to check that all the MDC polling agents at the 140 polling stations were in place and that there was no funny-business on the go. Alas. We bumped into said funny-business at one of the first polling stations we visited – Gwebi College.
Zanu party at polling station.
We found a party on the go in the room right next to the polling station. The party/ beer drink was being hosted by Frank Sada, the incumbent Zanu (PF) councillor. Nixon felt that the sight of Zanu (PF) luminaries swilling beer in full sight of queuing voters could be construed as intimidating. The presiding officer, a government employee, felt differently. And so we set off in search of an election observer. Eventually we found what I think was the only observer assigned to Zvimba East and Zvimba West constituencies, an area of around 1,000 square kilometres, at a polling station called Royden Farm. We also found Patrick Zhwao, the incumbent Zanu (PF) MP and yet another Mugabe nephew there – a charming, dreadlocked young man with designer jeans, pointy Italian shoes and a crocodile smile.
Patrick engaged John and I in lighthearted banter. He wanted to know why we had chosen a losing party to support. I suggested that given the fact the votes hadn’t been counted that his observations were premature, unless of course he knew something I didn’t. We left Zhwao and went to where the lonely observer was sitting, to complain about the beer drink at the Gwebi polling station.
The observer tut-tutted quietly but said, unfortunately, due to a lack of transport, he wasn’t going to be able to react. I offered him a lift. But unfortunately with voters streaming into the Royden Farm polling station at a rate of about five an hour he wasn’t going to be able to leave Royden. Alas.
Zhwaoa, who I am sure listened in on our conversation, left the polling station with his groupies in his shiny new double-cab. After another five minutes of Nixon trying to persuade the observer to do his duty, we followed suit. After a kilometre, we were waved down by a group of very young children. They warned us the road was blocked. And so it was. By Patrick Zhuwao.
I assured John that Zhuwao wouldn’t try anything on polling day. The road we were on was too narrow to overtake and we were forced to follow Zhwao as he crept along at 20 kilometres an hour. Ever the optimist, I figured he was nursing the aforementioned shiny new car.
[xhead]Truck of fist-waving thugs
About 300 metres from the main road, Patrick, with his crocodile smile, pulled over and waved us on. I pulled onto the main road with a huge sense of relief. Alas. Mutandariwa, the other Mugabe nephew, was waiting for us with a truck full of fist-waving thugs. We fled at speeds I did not know my Tata pick-up was capable of. At times we were driving at 160 kilometres an hour over some of the worst roads I have ever driven on. With Mutandariwa and friends right up my bum. And every time I looked in the rear-view mirror, Nixon and his polling agents were throwing Vote For Morgan’ stickers at Mutandariwa. Super. More reason for the veins on the man’s neck to stick out. 
We were 50 kilometres from Harare. I headed for Meikles Hotel with its rooms bulging full of busy, busy observers. On the outskirts of Harare, though, I bumped into a police roadblock. The police waved us down. Before we could explain ourselves to the police, Mutandawira roared up. He identified himself as Military Intelligence and grabbed my car keys and John’s and my passports. He told the cops to hold us whilst he went off reinforcements.
In Zimbabwe, CIO or Charley Ten as they are more commonly known do not have powers of arrest. I begged the young policeman who was in charge of the roadblock to not let Mutandawira take us away when he returned. He was a very brave young man and he stood his ground when Mutandawira and another car full of thugs returned. He told them that he would hand us over to his superior in the Traffic Department at Harare Central. Long story cut short – we ended up in the Law and Order offices.
Law and Order handle political crimes and were the ones who beat Morgan to within an inch of his life. Thankfully, John and I were travelling on foreign passports. During the crazy car chase, John had banged off a million text messages to observers, the media, Tendai Biti and Roy Bennett of the MDC and anyone else he could think of. The Chief Superintendent of the Law and Order section, a charming gentleman who had obviously never quite got over the fact that his mother never loved him, didn’t bother to ask for our version of events. He preferred the CIO version, which had us distributing MDC campaign materials at polling stations.
We pointed out that the police at those polling stations would surely have arrested us on the spot. Undaunted, he ordered us to be fingerprinted. We also had to fill out Accused Profiles. The bit about what crimes we were being accused of remained blank. Morgan had won.
Eventually, the lawyers arrived, organised by Tendai Biti. They were amazing and had obviously been there and done that a million times. We weren’t their only clients in the Law and Order section that night. They were looking after some dastardly fiends accused of waving and even Chipo Chung, the daughter of Fay, Mugabe’s former Minister of Education, who had committed the heinous crime of taking a camera to within 300 metres of a polling station. She never took a photo but just having the camera was enough to get thrown into cells for the night.
At 10am, we were finally asked to give statements. Whilst doing this, a junior policeman received a phone-call. She listened intently, hung up and told us that we had won. She gave a little dance of celebration and then hugged us. The MDC had won.
The call had been from a friend at the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. I burst into tears. Morgan and the MDC had cleaned up in both the House of Assembly and Presidential races.
The only good thing that Thabo Mbeki managed to achieve in his months of negotiations was to force Mugabe to allow the vote count to be posted outside each and every polling station. And each and every Constituency Command Post. In full view of the people of Zimbabwe, who then did the sums.
But the mood soured when a senior police officer entered the room. He was also crying but his weren’t tears of joy. His career as a torturer was nearing an end.
John and I flew out on a plane at 6pm, leaving behind a lot of brave people who didn’t have the luxury of foreign passports. People like Knox Danda, who phoned me on the Sunday, still too frightened to leave what remained of his home, but still waiting for the Honourable Khumalo to come out and rescue him.
I see the Honourable Khumalo and his team have since described the elections as being largely free and fair. I sit here in South Africa watching the farce as Mugabe commits a massive crime and steals a whole country, again. But an even bigger crime will be committed by the South African Government if they let him get away with it. 
We fled at speeds I did not know my Tata pick-up was capable of. At times we were driving at 160 kilometres an hour over some of the worst roads I have ever driven on. With Mutandariwa and friends right up my bum.

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