An Army of the Poor
We go to the polls here in Zimbabwe in three days time! Those of us who
deeply involved with the MDC are totally exhausted, many are hoarse
speaking at meetings two and three times a day for weeks, many are both
physically and mentally exhausted by the effort they have put into the
I have often pointed out to any who will listen, that the MDC is a
the Poor. If you had visited a Zanu rally you would have been
the variety of vehicles in the vicinity - army, police, CIO, Mercedes,
every form of 4x4 and luxury twin cab you can name and few you probably
never seen. By contrast at the MDC rally on Saturday - with 35 000
crammed into a stadium that holds 15 000, there were a handful of
pick-ups and the now familiar armored twin cab that carries the
On Wednesday evening we will deploy our own army to their posts. An
peasant farmers, widows, grandmothers and low-income workers. This army
numbering 35 000 have all volunteered to have their names printed in
newspaper for all to see, along with their ID numbers and physical
and will go out to witness and supervise the elections at 8 300 polling
They will have to walk to their stations in most cases; many will sleep
the stations they are looking after because they live too far away.
handful will have their own transport and the MDC simply cannot move
their stations because they themselves have no "wheels".
They will vary from illiterate people who cannot write their names to
teachers and headmasters who have defied their government employers to
They will carry small packs - a candle, a box of matches, some toilet
2 kilograms of maize meal and some form of "relish" to go with it.
some water in a plastic bottle.
They will have to man their stations for up to 24 hours straight - no
as people will vote all day and in some cases well into the night. They
the risk of physical violence and intimidation and offers of money to
abandon their posts or allow the operation of the station to be
while they are there.
After the election they have been threatened with the loss of their
transfers to hostile places and the denial of food and medicine for
families. In Masvingo the Head of the Armed forces said this past week
the "bushes would become soldiers and MDC supporters beheaded".
At their polling stations they will enter a totally hostile
There will be police present, probably youth militia, peasant farmers
be faced with their traditional leaders all of who are paid to work for
State and Zanu PF. All the officials in the polling station will be
hostile - probably drawn from the army or the CIO. Even the staff of
Zimbabwe Electoral Commission will be vetted by Zanu PF and will be
Zanu supporters and cadres.
And into this situation will march our rag tag army of polling agents -
barefoot or in sandals made out of old tyres, wearing their best
because this is an honor. They will be armed with two pens, some
and their commitment to democratic principles and a free and fair
environment for our people to vote in. They will only be allowed one at
time into the polling station itself and there they will watch the
voting process. They will be alert for any actions that may result in
returns for that station being subverted in some way.
They will have had a days training from the MDC and a couple of hours
the ZEC. They are the only way we can stop the kind of activity that we
and experienced in 2000 and 2002 and which resulted in the election
stolen from the democrats. For that is what we are - we are the only
democrats in this race - for the others, this is not a test of public
opinion, it is just a front for electoral fraud on a massive scale.
What astonishes me and gives me hope for Zimbabwe and for Africa is
commitment to real democracy at this level of our society is so strong
alive. These may be the poor, but we have found that they not only
understand the value of democracy but also want it to work for them.
group of poor Zimbabweans if they are "ready". You do not have to
they know you are asking "are you ready to vote?" and the answer
exception is yes!
So here you have an army of the poor, going once again into battle for
future, the future of their children and their country. A battle that
have fought twice before and been beaten - not by fair means but by
army that has not given up despite propaganda, threats, hunger and
Hundreds of thousands tortured, hundreds beaten or even killed. They go
against armed forces numbering 120 000, armed with AK 47's and
with pride and arrogance. They go against a State controlled system
been designed and built to frustrate their desires and will.
They are in small groups - three per station, in lonely places, many
kilometers from the nearest town. They are armed only with their
and pens. They cannot call on reinforcements if they get into trouble
may not even get news of them for hours after any incidents. But these
the people who are holding the line for democracy in Africa and I am so
proud to be one of them.
Bulawayo, 28th March 2005.