by Constance Manika
- Zimbabwe -
Tinashe Choruma and his wife Irene live in the suburb of Epworth here in the capital, Harare, where many of city's poor reside. The housing is poorly constructed - some homes are made from mud and pole, with no clean water or sanitation services. The suburb could very much pass as a shanty town.
Tinashe came to the city in 2000 from rural Murehwa to take up a job as a librarian; he was staying with his wife and their two children in the high-density suburb of Glen View. But after Robert Mugabe ordered all "illegal" houses to be destroyed during Operation Murambatsvina, the backyard cottage he used to call home was destroyed. He was left homeless.
The Choruma's experience is a sad story of the vicious cycle of poverty. They believe they were betrayed and hung out to dry by a government they voted into power. They are now part of what can only be described as election fever -- one that has suddenly gripped Zimbabweans following the divisions within the ruling ZANU PF party in the run-up to the election this Saturday, March 29th.
The announcement by former finance minister Simba Makoni, a senior politburo member in president Robert Mugabe's ZANU PF party, that he will run against Mugabe in the elections has given people here hope that there is a chance for regime change. At the same time, the economic situation in our country has worsened and the levels of suffering have reached alarming levels.
The prices of goods are increasing not just by the day but also by the hour. If you walk into a shop at 10am and see the price of mealie meal is Z$150 million and then come back at the end of the day having sourced some money, the price is Z$200 million. How can you chase after inflation at that rate? The problem for many people is that their salaries and wages remain the same for months while prices just keep on rising.
Zimbabweans are tired of continuously racing after inflation and living from hand to mouth. For some people it is from hand to nothing at all. These are people like the Chorumas who are hungry for change. They want Mugabe out.
"I can't wait for the elections because this is my only chance to take part in bringing change. We can't go on living like animals like this," says Irene.
"I am tired of walking to work and living from hand to mouth - I want to vote this government out of power. I will vote for anyone who is not Mugabe. If Mugabe and his party rig the elections again, I am prepared to go to streets and force him out of power…Mirai muone (just wait and see)," adds Tinashe.
The couple took turns telling me their pains and tribulations, their wishes and dreams. For me their experiences are unfathomable. It’s hard to believe that even after going through all this suffering, they have not allowed anyone to break their spirit. There is still an ounce of hope in the couple that one day Zimbabwe will prosper.
I met the Chorumas at a feeding point in Epworth recently where they were part of a group of more than 500 people who turned out to get food aid from an international humanitarian agency. Each month they receive two liters of cooking oil, a packet of mealie meal, soya beans and soya bean porridge, which is meant especially for children.
The Chorumas are among the many people who believe that change can only come from within the ruling ZANU PF party - which is why Makoni's breakaway from Mugabe has excited them so much. As a member of the ZANU PF party's politburo, Makoni sits on the highest decision making body in Robert Mugabe's ruling party.
I was in the newsroom on the morning of February 5th cracking my head on what to work on for the week when we heard the news that Makoni had called an urgent press conference. In the months leading up to that day when he officially broke away from Mugabe, Makoni had been linked to reports of a major ZANU PF split.
After hearing this news, the whole newsroom was suddenly abuzz and we all began speculating on why Makoni might have called a press conference. The news came in around 10:30am that the press conference was scheduled for 11am so there was really no time to continue speculating on what it was likely to be about.
We left almost immediately - I wanted to secure a front row seat to ensure that I heard everything. As I sat at the very front waiting for Makoni to come in, I was reminded of my early days as a green, eager-to-please reporter straight from college in the beginning of 2000.
When I attended press conferences, events or functions then, I always sat in the front so that I would not miss anything - the prospect of going back to our male-dominated newsroom without a story was always daunting. I wanted so much to prove that even though I was a woman and had entered this so-called male profession, I was not lost.So I sat right in front and waited for history to be made. Makoni did not disappoint. He came to announce that he was breaking away from ZANU PF and was standing against Mugabe in the presidential election. He explained that he hoped to rescue the country from economic collapse if every Zimbabwean would support him and would come out to vote in large numbers. By voting in huge numbers, Makoni said it would be difficult for Mugabe to rig the election.
Yes, all this could have been pure political rhetoric, but I must tell you it has been hard to ignore the excitement that has been generated by this news.
Makoni's announcement has sent the Chorumas and every change hungry Zimbabwean into a frenzy. I have never seen the people of Zimbabwe this excited. The last time I ever saw such excitement was in 2000 after the historic no-vote in a referendum that rejected a government sponsored constitution that would give too much power to Mugabe. That referendum was the first loud and clear protest sent to Mugabe's government.
Of course others who were born much earlier than me will say they last saw this much excitement and hope in 1980 when Mugabe won the election that ended British rule. Yes, incredibly, he was a hero back then.
People see this election and Makoni's entry into it as a new beginning for Zimbabwe. Many people had lost hope that this election would bring about any meaningful change but suddenly the tide has turned.
It is a refreshing change after the heartbreak that Zimbabweans suffered when two factions of Zimbabwe's strongest opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), failed to come to an agreement to unite against Mugabe and choose one presidential candidate.
It was clear that going into an election against Mugabe with a divided opposition would almost certainly split the urban vote in favor of ZANU PF. For many people, voting or even registering to vote in light of this setback suddenly seemed like a serious waste of time. But Makoni's entry into the race changed all this. After his announcement, Zimbabweans went to register to vote in droves.
Election officers from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission recently announced that they have been overwhelmed by the large numbers of people wanting to register at the last minute. Those who had already registered are thronging at the registration booths to double check that their names are still on the voter's roll.
So do the people of Zimbabwe have a chance on March 29th, 2008? Will the Chorumas’ dream of change in Zimbabwe come true? Will their dream of decent housing and a decent way of life come true?
Going around the country trailing different parties as they campaign, the mood of the people is quite clear: people want change, even in the rural areas that are traditionally ZANU PF strongholds. Villagers are attending opposition rallies in large numbers. I have been to rallies for the two MDC factions of Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara as well as Makoni's Mavambo formation, and I tell you the numbers are shocking.
Recently in Mutare in the eastern highlands of Zimbabwe, Tsvangirai's MDC had a turnout of at least 20,000 people who came of their own volition. They were not forced into army trucks or state buses or forced to attend as is always the case with Mugabe's ZANU PF rallies.
I can feel in my bones that Mugabe is going to suffer a humiliating defeat. If he tries to rig the elections, I fear we may regrettably have another Kenya scenario because people want so badly to end their suffering. The argument I have heard in different parts of the country in this pre-election period is that if they cannot end their misery, what is there to lose by going into the streets in protest? Never mind, they say, how quick Mugabe's army and police jump to silence dissenting voices by beating people in the streets.
I know for sure that Tsvangirai's MDC will attract the votes of both the average Zimbabwean and of struggling workers in urban areas; these are the people who have borne the brunt of the economic meltdown. Tsvangirai identifies with the workers since MDC was formed from the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. He will also attract a few enlightened voters in the rural areas to his support base, but the majority of the rural vote will be split between Makoni and Mugabe.
This presents a very interesting scenario. According to the Electoral Act, a presidential candidate must win at least 51 percent of the total votes cast. In the event that none of the candidates gets a clear majority, the act says there must be a run-off featuring the two top candidates. This has to be held within 21 days. Mutambara, the leader of the other MDC faction, recently opted out in support of Makoni's candidacy.
I predict that Tsvangirai will get 40 percent of the total vote while Mugabe and Makoni will take 30 percent and 28 percent respectively. The other two insignificant presidential candidates who have been planted by ZANU PF to split the vote in its favor will share 2 percent of the vote between themselves.
At the end of the day this means a runoff between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, allowing the opposition to unite against Mugabe.
I believe change is very much near.
About the Author
Constance Manika is a journalist who works for the independent press in Zimbabwe. She writes under this pseudonym to escape prosecution from a government whose onslaught and level of intolerance to journalists in the independent press is well documented.
In Meltdown in Zimbabwe, an exclusive and ongoing series at The WIP, Constance provides continued on-the-ground reporting from her embattled country where Zimbabweans struggle daily for democracy, economic sustainability and human rights.