31 July, 2013

Election Day

It's election day today - the first Presidential (and Parliamentary) elections since Zimbabwe's coalition government was formed in 2009, the first elections since the violence and devastation of 2008.

I arrived back home a week ago to a country that seems normal, that seems peaceful and happy. But there's a strange undercurrent of below-the-surface-fear.

Mom and I were driving through town the other day and had stopped in the middle of a typical intersection, one with the usual crowded cacophony of cars and people; combis wedged into every possible space in between cars, Buddie (phone card) sellers, newspaper sellers and guys selling car phone chargers, elections stickers, flags and belts all standing in the middle of the road, in the midst of the cars. Women walking with bundles on their heads or wearing heels and a business suit, out on lunch break.
We heard the sound of sirens approaching from somewhere in front of us and a motorcycle zipped past on our right, followed by four more, all with their sirens screaming. The President was coming. The light ahead turned green but nobody moved; all cars and people were still and waiting, faces carefully neutral.
After the motorbikes came the police-cars and in the middle of the entourage was the black car with flags, protected by an army truck behind and an army truck in front, both filled with soldiers, their guns trained out at the rest of us. Then came more motorbikes and lastly, an ambulance.
The street breathed again.
People moved, kept walking, avoided eye contact and didn't joke or smile. Cars drove onwards and the strange silence was covered up with growing talk.

That's the feeling on the streets; people are quiet and worried. Though campaigning has been "mostly peaceful, with few reports of intimidation" (according to the BBC), the fear is of a different kind. 

I was chatting with a friend who said that a couple weeks ago, in a suburb just outside the city, government men came in and rounded up the people. Every person had their picture taken. Then the men left. No one was told what the pictures were for, when they would be used or who had ordered them.

"At least when they're beating you , you know exactly what it's about. But this...you don't know what they could do," my friend said.

People are afraid because we don't know what to fear. We don't know what will happen

At the moment, there's nothing we can do but wait. We're going on about our lives as usual - I have a kitchen tea to prepare for and (eventually) a job to find. But at the back of our minds are questions: Do we hope for a "New Zimbabwe"? Do we fear for our safety? Will anything change at all?

As a friend said this morning, heading to the polling station in town to vote, "we'll know in five days". We hope. 

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