Election time in Zimbabwe

We are watching the US primaries with great interest. It is not just that we have a candidate who is half African in the joustings, but also because it is so dissimilar to our own experience. The media coverage in the US is total, no stone is unturned and any glitches by the candidates are analyzed ad nauseum.

Here it is quite simple - you see virtually nothing of the opposition on TV nor hear its views on radio. The State controlled newspapers pour out propaganda on a daily basis and not a word about the opposition in constructive or analytical terms. No debates, very little advertising (most of our adverts have been rejected by the State media).

Then there is the rigging - starting with a voters roll with 3 million (50 per cent) ghost voters on it, hundreds of thousands of citizens - even those born here, denied the vote on some spurious grounds. We are denied the voters roll in an electronic version because it gives us the capacity to analyse the thing and to demonstrate its distortions and errors. In fact it is not widely known that the new Electoral Act says we can have such a copy at a 'reasonable' price - when we got one it comprised over 200 discs with digital photo's of pages of the voters roll - each page with a red line across it to complicate scanning. Totally useless as a digital copy.

Then comes the delimitation - we estimate the population split at 65% urban and 35% rural. The split in terms of electoral districts comes out - 76% rural and 24% urban. Now they have just given us the polling stations and this shows that on average there are 500 voters per polling station in the rural areas and close to 2000 in urban areas! Since it will take on average about 5 to 7 minutes to process one voter at a polling station they can only handle 144 voters in 12 hours - three lines in each polling station - that is 432 per day. On this basis it will take 5 days to capture the total number of voters in Harare and three to four days in Bulawayo.

ZEC proposed 310 polling station in Bulawayo - I see we got 207, we said to ZEC we needed at least 400. In 2002 people in Harare and Bulawayo and to some extent in the other main towns, queued for up to 4 days to cast their vote and were finally chased away from the polling stations by riot police and dogs. 400 000 voters were denied their vote, Mugabe 'won' by just over 400 000 votes. . For this reason we can expect real problems in the urban areas if we do not get more polling stations - at least twice as many as are now listed.

The majority of the padding of the voters roll is in the rural districts where Mugabe expects the bulk of his vote to come from. It is also in the rural districts where he has used his control of the electoral machinery to rig past elections. He expects to be able to do the same again this year.

We also have problems when it comes to the supervision of the vote in the rural areas. For this purpose we are training thousands of polling agents who will represent us at every polling station in the country. They will sit inside the station and watch the procedures during the day and then they will supervise the actual count. We then plan to report the result of every polling station to a central command centre and from where we will announce the result - irrespective of what the State machinery does. From this system we plan to check the official results as they are announced and from this we will be able to see any discrepancies.

For this to happen we need volunteers to help with the actual poll in Zimbabwe. We need at least 4 mobile units in every rural district. Each volunteer should have his own vehicle - 4x4 or a robust 2x4 at the very least, camping gear for three nights and food and fuel. People who want to volunteer should contact Roy Bennett in South Africa (082 3884985) or myself (091 2227 144). We will provide orientation, guides and security plus some local communications gear. Volunteers will be deployed into the rural districts no later than Friday - spend all Saturday until the vote is completed and then collect the results, see they are communicated to a command centre and then be free to go home or join the rest of us for the party!

As for the question of observers, we now know whom they regard as being 'friendly'. Quite a useful list for us as it also suggests to the opposition who are not likely to be 'friendly' when we finally capture State House. SADC and the AU have sent observer missions, the SADC group led by that icon of democracy in Africa, Angola. They lost no time in saying that in their view the elections would be free and fair.

On the ground the campaign is intense. Our rallies and meetings are drawing large crowds and have an atmosphere of energy and vitality. The poster war is well underway - we had Zanu PF pulling down ours last week - the life of one of our posters is about a day, not more unless it is pasted onto a wall 20 feet off the ground.

We are still facing harassment and violence on the ground. Zanu PF thugs seem to be free to do what they will and we have a number of people in hospital at present. The Police are restricting our activities in many ways and this is frustrating. Approval for meetings is also difficult to get and then results in the CIO attending all our meetings even when they are closed MDC meetings for supporters only.

But hey, who said building democracy was easy. We know it is essential and now it's just a question of getting the job done as quickly and as painlessly as we can. We chose this road back to freedom, not via guns or violence. We chose peaceful, democratic legal change as the only way we were prepared to fight for change. Will we get it this time? I think we will but it is not going to be easy or painless or cheap. Even if we do win this time - we still face the hurdle of compliance by the local authorities.

If you are not already in the fight, think about what you can do to help us win this battle. The outcome is vital for all of Africa, not just this little central African country.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 16th March 2008