AMBUYA Motsi (not her real name), a widow living in the high density suburb of Glen Norah, Harare, last Friday could not believe what she had just done – voting for embattled President Robert Mugabe in a presidential run-off election condemned as a sham world-wide.
The poll turned out to be a one-man race after MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew his candidature at the eleventh hour citing escalating state-sponsored violence against his supporters.
“I cannot believe I have just voted for the man I hold responsible for my misery,” bemoaned Ambuya Motsi. “But what could I have done to protect my family and home from the Zanu PF militia?”
She said a week before the controversial poll, Zanu PF youths had frog-marched her and other residents of the suburb to Glen Norah Stadium and ordered them to vote for Mugabe or face the consequences.
“They told us to vote for Mugabe and present our ballot paper serial numbers to party district chairpersons in the suburb,” Motsi said. “Failure to comply with the order would have resulted in us being assaulted or even killed.”
The 64-year-old widow said on the eve of the run-off, Zanu PF militia toyi-toyed around the suburb chanting Mugabe slogans, singing liberation war songs and threatening to deal with anyone who defied their order to vote for the octogenarian former guerilla leader.
Despite the intimidation, voter turnout was low.
“I went to a polling station at a primary school near my house with a group of my neighbours and we were all shocked to find out that by 9am we were the first group to cast our votes,” Motsi claimed.
She recalled that in the March 29 harmonised elections she arrived at the same polling station at 8am and was number 50. Ten minutes after casting her ballot the queue stretched for more than 100 metres.
“The picture at the polling station on Friday said a lot about the election we were participating in,” Motsi said. “Most people at the polling station were senior citizens like me who were only voting to secure their homes and families.”
Low voter turnout was also witnessed in Marimba, Mufakose and Chitungwiza, but there were long winding queues in Harare South.
Another Harare resident, who asked to be identified only as Mercy for security reasons, said she voted for Mugabe against her will in order to secure her vending stall at Mbare Musika.
She said: “I didn’t want to vote in last week’s election, but as a vendor I had to go and vote to secure my vending site.”
Mercy said Zanu PF youths had told them on the eve of the poll that they were going to take away licences of vendors who would not vote for Mugabe.
“My husband is unemployed and my vegetable market is our only source of income and losing it would be the end of us so I just had to follow their orders and vote to extend Mugabe’s rule although it will only worsen our condition,” she said.
“What I don’t understand is why they forced us to vote in a one-man race when it was quite obvious that Mugabe would emerge the winner.”
In most rural constituencies, voters were herded to polling stations by traditional leaders and instructed to vote for Mugabe. They were ordered to record their ballot paper’s serial numbers and would after polling give them to the leaders.
“We were told that they will use the number to find out whom we had voted for,” a villager in Murehwa said. A visit to urban polling stations revealed that there was a poor voter turnout as compared to rural areas where political violence was more pronounced.
The MDC claimed that over 85 of its supporters were killed, plus 10 000 injured and more than 200 000 internally displaced by state security agents, Zanu PF militia and war veterans in the countdown to the run-off.
This occurred mainly in rural areas where Mugabe on his campaign trail threatened to go back to war if he lost the election to Tsvangirai, whom he considers a puppet of the West.
Observer missions during the run-off have issued preliminary reports saying the outcome of the election did not represent the will of Zimbabweans.
The Sadc Observer Mission said the countdown to the run-off did not conform to the regional bloc’s principles and guidelines governing democratic elections.
A report presented by Angolan Minister of Youth and Sport JosÃ© Marcos Barrica, who headed the observer mission, noted that the pre-election phase was characterised by politically-motivated violence, intimidation and displacements.
“Based on the above-mentioned observations, the mission is of the view that the prevailing environment impinged on the credibility of the electoral process,” the report said. “The election did not represent the will of the people of Zimbabwe.”
The African Union (AU) Observer Mission said although peace prevailed on the polling day there, was violence in the period leading to the poll.
“Despite the poll being peaceful and held in accordance with the country’s electoral laws there was violence in the run down to the elections (which) deterred popular participation in the electoral process and there was no equitable access to the public media,” the AU mission said. “Against the backdrop of the foregoing factors, in the context of the AU declaration on the principles governing democratic elections in Africa, it is the considered view of the African Union Observer Mission that the election process fell short of accepted AU standards.”
The head of the Pan-African Parliament’s (PAP) observer mission, Marwick Khumalo, said many Zimbabweans voted out of fear and were determined to get the identifying indelible ink on their little fingers to show that they had voted.
Khumalo said there was a great deal of intimidation for people to vote and that voters hoped the ink would protect them.
The PAP mission and other observers said the turnout was low to an extent that at one polling station in the second city of Bulawayo only 22 people voted for Mugabe, 14 for Tsvangirai and 12 defaced their ballots.
By Lucia Makamure