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Page last updated at 16:38 GMT, Tuesday, 1 April 2008 17:38 UK

Harare's mood takes a nosedive

People in a line to buy food in Zimbabwe

By Farai Sevenzo
Harare

After the elation that came with people casting their votes for the leadership of their choice, a kind of deep intangible depression has descended on people in Harare.

Nearly 72 hours after Zimbabwe's polls closed, results have been trickling in like treacle - heavy, slow, and not that sweet.

What is the delay?

The minister of information has called it a "mammoth task", adding up millions of votes designed to pick so many legislators, not just a president.

Zimbabweans celebrating in Harare on Sunday
Why do you insist on getting carried away by Harare emotions? Is Harare the whole country?
Zanu-PF official

From midnight Saturday the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has been calling press conferences, eager to keep the media informed.

"They are always running to the foreign press," the minister told the BBC.

The opposition were informing all who would hear that the exit polls, and news from their people on the ground, were pointing to an overwhelming victory for Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC faction over incumbent Robert Mugabe and independent candidate Simba Makoni.

At six o'clock on Sunday morning, I ring MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa, looking for a one on one with his president.

All politicians seem to have more than one phone, and he barks: "Hold!" on the one I get through on and continues a conversation on the other line, which is hard for me not to eavesdrop on.

"We have wiped out Mutambara [Arthur Mutambara leader of the other MDC faction] in Bulawayo, he's history.

"But the Simba factor put a lot of pressure on us; it split the vote," and so on.

Several minutes later he takes my call. "Ok, call me after 0800, we have a press conference at the Meikles at 1000, I'll do what I can for your interview."

Reckless opinions

The press conference in the Meikles Hotel (established in 1915) is unnecessarily triumphant yet extremely cautious.

Election workers in Zimbabwe
The delay, people feel, points to a lack of transparency

The MDC Secretary-General, Tendai Biti, a lawyer by profession and speech, is rocking in his seat like a man whose nerves are threatening to leave him, but he is announcing a scale of victory he claims to be close to 67%.

The leader of his party is not in attendance. Nor is the spokesman I had been on the phone to only a few hours before.

"We have a few security issues and everyone knows we are novices at protecting ourselves," Mr Biti remarks.

Rumour has it that Mr Tsvangirai is speaking to the military or that he is in hiding because declaring victory before the votes are counted is against the law.

Later on a drive in the township, people are happy, car horns are sounding and everyone is being loud and reckless with their opinions.

An announcement is made on radio, these types of celebrations are tantamount to a coup, and the people are told not to be premature in their celebrations and not to provoke others.

It's impossible to rig this, too many eyes, and too many polling agents
Photographer Jekesai

But still the hope remains that the 29 March polls have brought a change, to some, or that they will leave things as they are to others.

Monday night I ring my ruling Zanu-PF party contact.

"I really don't know what is wrong with you people in the media. Why do you insist on getting carried away by Harare emotions? Is Harare the whole country? We are going to win because of our rural base."

He rattles a list of figures depicting victory margins in several constituencies: "Zanu 15,000, MDC 1,000; Zanu 12,000, MDC 1,000."

Smell a rat

But by Saturday night, those at the count and by the polling stations knew a sea change was on the way.

A policeman in Harare
The security presence is making people worried

At 0300, a policeman rang me to say he had never seen anything like this. The differences were in the thousands for the new politicians.

Was this more rumour?

For Hararians, the figures spewing out of their radios lack sufficient imagination - whole thousands, no 998, no 15,876. They smell a rat of enormous proportions.

The delay, people feel, points to a lack of transparency

On the streets, in the packed commuter omnibuses, there has been talk of little else.

The radio DJs, feeding us the usual staple of sentimental RnB and Celine Dion, interrupt their tunes to go to the Harare Conference Centre for the latest results from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.

"It's a cautious exercise, they are announcing them as if Zanu-PF and MDC are drawing all the way," says one man.

Men and women in camouflage are dotted here and there, keeping a peace which, in people's imaginations, is under threat

Jekesai is a freelance photographer. Like all people in his profession, he is looking for pictures to tell this unravelling story.

"I think they are just containing the situation. I was at the polls all night Saturday. It's impossible to rig this, too many eyes, and too many polling agents," he says.

"I seriously think they are just talking to each other."

What kind of pictures has he got of the poll aftermath?

"Police keeping their distance in Chitungwiza; I followed three police vehicles, those Israeli water cannons, into Warren Park.

"They are letting the people know that the law is still around."

There is cloud cover over Harare on Tuesday afternoon.

It is a breezy day and the men and women in blue and olive green and camouflage are dotted here and there, keeping a peace which, in people's imaginations, is under threat.



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