Page last updated at 08:01 GMT, Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Zimbabwe election: Regional round-up


Zimbabweans are going to the polls on Saturday 29 March to elect a president, MPs, senators and local councillors.

Here contributors around the country say how the campaigning has gone so far.

The BBC has not been allowed to send reporters into Zimbabwe, so the names have been changed to protect their identities.


Buildings and trees in Harare have been plastered with election posters for the three main presidential contenders - President Robert Mugabe, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and independent candidate Simba Makoni.

This time Zanu-PF is to be dethroned
Vegetable seller
The capital has voted for Mr Tsvangirai's opposition party since it was formed in 1999 and Mr Mugabe is unlikely to do well here.

Except for a few isolated cases of violence in Kuwadzana and Glen View high density suburbs, the capital has been largely peaceful so far.

But police are on full alert.

There is excitement in the air, with people openly stating that this election will bring about positive change to their lives.

"This time Zanu-PF is to be dethroned," said a woman who sells vegetables by the roadside.

She said she would vote for the MDC because she wants to lead a better life.

There is concern, through, that the ruling party might rig the elections.

MDC officials handing out baked beans
These MDC supporters were given baked beans at their rally

Some even fear this might lead to bloodshed, as happened in Kenya recently.

In Highfield, the citadel of Zimbabwean politics, the MDC which held a rally over the weekend, appeared to be the front-runner, with people gathered on street corners waving their open hands to indicate their support for Morgan Tsvangirai.

In Bindura, the Mashonaland Central capital, thousands turned out to listen to Simba Makoni at a rally in Chipadze stadium on Saturday.

Mr Makoni has promised voters that he will end long queues for basics like fuel and food and that he will end the water woes and power cuts that have turned life in Zimbabwe into a nightmare.

Mashonaland Central province has long been a hotbed of Zanu-PF politics and in previous elections it was a no-go area for the MDC or any other party.

But this time, all sides have been able to campaign freely.


In previous elections in Masvingo province, the opposition MDC won in the towns, while Zanu-PF dominated in rural areas. It is not clear what will happen this time.

Opposition supporters in rural parts of Masvingo have been intimidated and denied the chance to access food aid, according to the provincial chairman of Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC party, Wilstaff Sitemele.

The opposition supporters are biting the hand that feeds them
Fortune Charumbira
President of Zimbabwe's council of chiefs

Zimbabwe is facing a serious food shortage which has seen about a quarter of the population needing food aid.

"Two traditional chiefs, namely chief Ziki in Bikita district and chief Sengwe in Chiredzi, have been stopped from accessing their monthly allowances because they are linked to us," Mr Sitemele said.

"Most of our supporters in Chivi district and Zaka have approached us for help after they were denied food aid by ruling party supporters".

"All in all we are saying these elections will not be free and fair and Zanu-PF is doing all this in order to rig the polls.

A senior official within the Simba Makoni camp, Ray Muzenda, said the forthcoming polls would not be free and fair since some of his supporters have been intimidated.

"There are some senior Zanu-PF activists who came to my house and threatened me for supporting Simba Makoni," he said.

Supporters of President Robert Mugabe
Robert Mugabe's party has been accused of only giving food aid to its supporters

"Nearly all my posters have been removed and there is no way we can say we are going to have a free and fair election".

The president of the council of chiefs Fortune Charumbira has already told all traditional chiefs to deny food aid to all political opponents saying: "The opposition supporters are biting the hand that feeds them".

Mr Charumbira is a ruling Zanu-PF supporter and has a lot of influence among traditional leaders in the country.

"I have told all chiefs who support us to ensure that all our supporters are given food".

"For those who support the MDC, they should look to their party," he said.

However Zanu-PF Masvingo provincial chairman retired Major Alex Mudavanhu denied allegations of vote-buying, saying his party would win freely.

"No case has been brought to us that there is any government official involved in politicisation of food aid, hence we dismiss those allegations as false," he said.

Police in Masvingo said the campaign period has been generally peaceful.


Independent presidential hopeful, Simba Makoni, got a shot in the arm when chiefs in Makoni district, his home area, endorsed his candidacy.

Woman farming in eastern Zimbabwe
Voters in eastern Zimbabwe might back Simba Makoni

It is very rare in Zimbabwe for traditional leaders to publicly back an anti-Mugabe campaign.

Zanu-PF has over the years enjoyed unwavering support from traditional leaders who were instrumental in mobilising support in the rural areas, including Manicaland and Mashonaland East.

Mr Makoni, a former finance minister in President Mugabe's cabinet, got the backing when he addressed about 6,000 supporters at Vengere Stadium in Rusape, 187 km east of Harare.

Headmen Mapako and Mukuwapasi told Mr Makoni's supporters at Vengere Stadium that they were solidly behind the former finance minister.

Mr Makoni is from the local chief's family and chief Makoni has already said he is backing his kinsman.

The headmen said all other traditional leaders in the district were behind Mr Makoni and would ensure he wins in their respective areas of jurisdiction.

This means three senior cabinet minister face the danger of losing to candidates being sponsored by Mr Makoni.

These are people from Zanu-PF, who were told to stand down after party officials learned they were secretly backing Mr Makoni.

Security Minister Didymus Mutasa, Agriculture Minister Joseph Made and Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa are contesting seats in Makoni district.

While Mr Makoni was in Rusape, the ruling party was hosting a rally at Odzi Country club which attracted about 3,000 people.

Provincial Governor Tinaye Chigudu pleaded with Zanu-PF supporters to refrain from using violence when campaigning.

The rally was marred by news that three Zanu-PF activists had died in an accident while travelling to the rally venue. About 20 were injured at taken to Mutare General Hospital.

Posters bearing images of Mr Mugabe have been plastered all over shop walls and trees in Mutare's central business district.

The posters are inscribed messages such as "revolutionary, yesterday, today and tomorrow", "for principles, consistent and fearless leadership" and "the fist of empowerment".


Bulawayo and the whole of Matabeleland has long been a hotbed of opposition to Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF and this is not likely to change now.

The opposition MDC is split into two factions, with the larger group backing Morgan Tsvangirai.

Surplus ballot papers printed
Presidential votes counted centrally
Tens of thousands of "ghost voters"
Police allowed inside polling stations
More polling stations in rural areas
State media bias
Food aid only given to Zanu-PF supporters
Chiefs used to campaign for Zanu-PF

The smaller faction, which is dominated by the Ndebele people of the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces, is supporting Simba Makoni in the presidential election.

But he only declared he would contest the election six weeks ago and the news has not reached some parts of the region.

More people are aware of long-time MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Just a few days ahead of the elections, many villagers in rural Matabeleland say they still don't know how they will vote.

Some say they have not even heard about the MDC split, which happened in 2005.

"I have travelled to many villages in Matabeleland North and have discovered that people don't know there are two opposition factions of the MDC, said Max Mkandla, who works with civic groups and leads an organisation of former guerrillas.

Mr Mkandla said the main problem was that voter education teams must be sanctioned by the ZEC, making it difficult for independent organisations such as churches, Bulawayo Agenda and the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, ZESN to go into remote areas to educate the people about the election.

Political parties have been arguing with ZEC officials to give them sample ballot papers in order to educate ordinary voters who still don't understand the procedures of voting in four elections at once.

This is Zimbabwe's first harmonised elections, with four elections at the same time - for president, senators, MPs and local councillors.

Violence was reported in some townships in Bulawayo where a house belonging to an MDC activist was attacked in Cowdray Park.

Police also reported violence between the rival MDC factions.

Over the weekend, President Mugabe held a campaign meeting in Bulawayo in a hall in Makhokhoba township, which can only accommodate 500 people.

Bulawayo has been an opposition stronghold for many years.


Mashonaland West is Robert Mugabe's home area and in previous elections, the opposition could not campaign here because of violence.

But this has changed now and some people say they want change - even in rural areas.

I need to take with me food for a week and do not have money. It's just unfair
Polling officer
Zanu-PF has appointed traditional leaders as polling agents in some of the re-settled farms.

According to the opposition MDC, the move is a ploy to intimidate the electorate in the farms where the headmen were appointed.

One such constituency is Hurungwe East that covers most farms outside Karoi farming town as well as Tengwe, 250 kilometres north-west of Harare.

Zanu-PF is represented by Sarah Mahoka while the opposition is fielding Chamunoda Mugarisanwa.

''We have identified four polling stations within Zebra Downs farm where the ruling party has deployed headmen as election agents," said MDC official Biggie Haurobi.

"None of their subjects who are our members can stand against them, as they would be victimised after the elections."

He said this could pave the way for vote-rigging.

Supporter of Simba Makoni
The opposition has been able to campaign in parts of Zimbabwe it could not reach in the past

Meanwhile, polling officers deployed by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission [ZEC] in the farming town of Karoi, 204 kilometres north-west of Harare are battling to get transport to rural schools.

The polling officers, who are mostly teachers and police officers, complained that they had no money to get their own transport and ZEC had not paid them.

''We are surprised why ZEC has recruited civil servants, mostly teachers from towns, to go to rural schools that are far away when we could have covered the town where we live. Transport is problematic due to fuel scarcity in the country,'' said one teacher, who has been deployed to be a polling officer in Mjinga rural constituency, 70 kilometres south of Karoi.

''I need to take with me food for a week and do not have money. It's just unfair,'' said a female teacher deployed to Zvimonja rural about 95 kilometres north of Karoi.

ZEC spokesman Shupikai Mashereni refused to comment.


During the preparations for Monday's rally by President Robert Mugabe, Zanu-PF youths removed all posters for Simba Makoni and MDC's Morgan Tsvangirai and the whole town was covered with President Mugabe's pictures.

Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe in Harare on Saturday
Today there is no rain and there is nothing the black farm owners can do. If good rains come, we will make it
Robert Mugabe
Most of the 4,000 people who attended the rally were ferried in from rural areas, seemed hungry and no-one was allowed by the heavily armed police to go out of the Colliery Stadium until the end of the event.

Buses and farming implements were handed out but many people said this was blatant vote-buying and they said they would still vote against Zanu-PF on 29 March - as they have in previous elections.

During his speech, President Robert Mugabe said losing the forthcoming elections to MDC's Morgan Tsvangirai would be an indicator that Zimbabwe was cursed by its ancestors.

"Yes, he [Tsvangirai] can win some seats, but not the majority. I will romp to victory as has happened over the last 10 years," he said.

He also denied reports that his seizure of white-owned land was the reason for the food shortages.

"It is not true. White farmers never produced food for the blacks as they majored on farming tobacco and soya beans.

"Today there is no rain and there is nothing the black farm owners can do. If good rains come, we will make it," he said.

On Friday, MDC Vice-President Thokozani Khuphe said Zimbabwe was once the jewel of Africa in food production, a thing of the past because of Mr Mugabe's misrule.

Addressing about 7,000 supporters at Hwange Old stadium, Ms Kuphe said: "People have been taken back to 1923 when men crossed to South Africa for jobs to feed their families."

Meanwhile, Zanu-PF national chairman and parliament speaker, John Nkomo said Mr Makoni was too young to rule the country and accused him and former Interior Minister Dumiso Dabengwa, who has joined the Makoni camp, of greediness.

He said Mr Makoni decided to stand against President Mugabe after he had failed to be nominated for the party's primary elections, where he wanted to stand either as a senator or member of parliament.

Check on election day to see updates from our reporters on how voting is going around the country.


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