Dadirai Chikwengo is CAFOD’s Governance Advisor supporting work across Africa, Asia and Latin America. She is currently in Zimbabwe ahead of the first elections since former President, Robert Mugabe – who had been leading the country for over 30 years – stepped down.
In the last five days, I have been taken back to my childhood days. The days when I was a little girl in Gweru. The euphoria and the excitement in the country have taken me back decades to 1980 when Mugabe came into power. It is winter in Zimbabwe. Not that our winters are grey and wet as some place in the North where I now live. Here most of the vegetation looks brown like fields of wheat ready for harvest. But this winter, the colours on the brown barks of the trees have been unusual. From green, yellow, red, blue, you mention it!
In case you think I am out of my mind – surely who has seen a blue tree? I am not. These are all the colours of posters tied up or pasted on the trees. The colours of posters that are lining the streets or on walls whenever you go. Posters of political parties, the Church or the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission about this election. I meet people in the streets who are fearlessly open about their candidate of choice. Clad in the colours of their party every time they see someone in the same colours they acknowledge them and loudly say out the slogan ED Pfee (ED enters) or Chamisa chete chete (Chamisa the only one).
The ambience before the election
The ambience is ecstatic! This is what I remember as a proper Zimbabwean election as a young girl. Over the last 37 years I had almost permanently erased this in my mind. Elections have been synonymous with fear, intimidation and violence.
I remember the eve of an election marked by drums rolling, whistling, ululating and so much joy. I didn’t know what an election was then. However, I could tell that there was hope, expectancy and a desire for freedom. Even when Mugabe finally won that 1980 election, he called the year, the year of the people’s power. I am now filled with nostalgia and praying for that 1980 people’s power to translate into a free and fair vote today.
There have been two big rallies, painting the west green and yellow and the east red. The two major political parties are having their last go. The rallies have been dubbed crossover, final push, a star just to show their significance and the hope of a new Zimbabwe.
The Church has also not been quiet, ensuring they urge people to go out and vote through press conferences. ‘Please make the best use of your vote for the good of your country. Do not be afraid… As the Church we will be available in all provinces for accompaniment and assistance in protecting your vote’ says Bishop Rudolf Nyandoro of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
The end of an era
When we were growing up my grandpa, Sekuru Ayavhu, was a great storyteller but one needed the patience of an ox to listen to him drag his voice as he went through the long, long, time ago stories. My grandpa stories would be long, and he would always digress or succumb to slumber. Amazingly, if we shook him, he would wake up and continue with his narration.
Today, again this election evoked memories of my childhood and my long-gone grandpa as I listened to a press conference by the former (did I just say former) President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Robert Gabriel Mugabe. It was painful yet so sad to listen to Mugabe ‘s ‘we was robbed’ cry and asserting that he was a victim of a coup. It was unbelievable to see him on the receiving end. As usual taking us through a history lesson but not once acknowledging that we are where we are because of his governance and leadership.
We didn’t want to be reminded about the remarkable things. We wanted to know why and where it all went wrong. As defiant as ever, he confidently said, ‘I don’t see where I have erred’. But what was more startling and am sure I missed a heart-beat was when he said ‘I pray that tomorrow brings us good news and that we get our freedom, democracy and constitutionality’. This is all we have always demanded.
As the curtain closes in and we join the queue to vote, I am grateful to God for this opportunity. An opportunity to not only witness the coming of a new Zimbabwe but to make my vote count. I will be faced with a ballot paper with 23 Presidential hopefuls but without Mugabe on it. Unlike my grandpa, I hope I will wake up from my slumber and not continue with the same story but tell a new story of a God who restored a nation.