Robert Mugabe pins his hopes on poll chaos
LIKE a python, the tail of the queue begins narrow, in single file, but it
trebles and quadruples in width as it stretches over a corrugated iron
walkway and far into the distance.
Those at the front struggle through a narrow gate into the yard of Makombe
building, the headquarters of the registrar-general of Zimbabwe. When they
finally do get inside, they can register to vote.
It is midday on the last day of registration for the elections on July 31. I
greet an elderly man in a cloth cap in the queue.
“I want to vote, but in four hours I have not moved from this place,” he
said. Robert Mugabe has, so far, given up violence as a means to stay in
power. Instead, his strategy appears to be to clinch victory through chaotic
organisation and frustration.
Untold thousands have given up waiting at the understaffed registration
centres. Young voters on the electoral roll make up less than 5 per cent of
the population. A million names have been removed from it, while others have
been moved en masse across constituencies. The process is as transparent as
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Yet, there is little audible anger in the queues among those who grimly hang
on, are turned away or just give up. People don’t talk politics openly here,
nor in the din of beerhalls, and not even in the relative privacy of a kombi
taxi. This is a country where the head of the opposition MDC party’s youth
movement is facing jail for calling Mugabe a donkey.
Seven months short of 90, Mugabe, who became prime minister in 1980 and
president in 1987, is on the campaign trail again. Waving a bony fist, he
appears in a cheap cotton suit and baseball cap printed all over with his
name and his picture. He makes vulgar remarks about his opponents and warns
against the evil of whites.
His rally in Harare packed out three football fields, his supporters dressed
in new issue yellow Zanu-PF T-shirts and caps. Many are rural poor, bussed
Yet great swaths of this silent population still carry wounds from the
brutality inflicted on them by Mugabe’s party after the first round of the
2008 ballot. They were punished for “voting the wrong way”.
Mugabe’s rich old generals believe their rank and file are loyal. In April,
they and their families were ordered from their squalid barracks to go to
register. But Zanu-PF’s strategists appear not to have done their arithmetic
from the elections in 2008. In Harare central, which is dominated by two
large police camps, the MDC won by a landslide.
Zanu-PF points to a US survey a year ago that said Mugabe’s popularity had
surged since that election and that he would pip Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC
leader, in a new ballot.
They ignored the fact that 25 per cent of the sample refused to state their
preferences. In quiet, brief conversations I have wherever I go, I am told,
in a word or a glance: “It is enough now.”