Page last updated at 00:41 GMT, Saturday, 5 April 2008 01:41 UK

Living on rumour in Harare

By Farai Sevenzo

Harare's quiet was burst today, but there was no loud bang. It was a bit like a flat party balloon finally finding the flame of a candle.

A pro-Mugabe war veteran in Harare (4 April 2008)
War veterans marched in support of Mr Mugabe and the Zanu-PF in the capital

Friday was Zanu-PF Politburo day and the rumours which have persisted about the state of the nation, the future of politics and, of course, those long-awaited results, did not go away.

With a police escort, independence war veterans marched through town towards the Zanu-PF headquarters to show their support.

Support for what exactly, was not made clear. But these marches are nothing new. They are a morale-booster for the ruling party, and the marchers are peaceful and sing in tune.

Questions pile up

To the ears of bystanders, though, the questions were piling up. When will the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) announce the remaining results of the Senate and presidential elections?

Parliamentary results
Presidential results:
None so far
Winner needs more than 50% to avoid run-off
Senate results:
Zanu-PF: 5
MDC: 5

The local newspapers have been widely reporting 48% for Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and 43% for Zanu-PF leader President Robert Mugabe.

And then there is the small matter of the constitution which, according to some, says results should be known by midnight on Friday, six days after the poll. Fluid as the situation is, there is no guarantee that the deadline will prompt results.

But the issue of the moment is what Mr Mugabe would say at his politburo meeting.

Did he have the energy to contest a run-off with an opposition that has already gone to the High Court in an attempt to force the ZEC to reveal last Saturday's election results? Should he stay or should he go?

The pictures on state television showed the president seemingly relaxed, and the AU observers said as much.

Show of force

Meanwhile the massive international interest in the elections has seen a mini-invasion of the media - they are dotted here and there, trying to understand what is happening.

On Thursday evening, two foreign journalists were arrested for taking pictures, and possibly also because their accreditation was in doubt.

The media attend an MDC press conference (1 April 2008)
The media are trying to understand what is happening in Zimbabwe

An MDC office in a hotel was also said to have been raided and ransacked by the security forces. And a drive out of town shows the massive police presence which kept its distance last Saturday.

So what is going on? Why the sudden show of muscle?

Many have said a run-off in the presidential election would be a chance to put things right. It has, according to some, galvanised the Zanu-PF.

The fear for the common citizens is that the old tricks of former Zimbabwean elections may resurface - bloody clashes between rival parties in an effort to win a photo-finish vote.

Meanwhile, the rumours keep hitting the streets thick and fast.

Some say the president is not going anywhere, that naturally the opposition were over-enthusiastic in their celebrations and claims of victory, that the game is one of two halves - the next half being the widely expected second-round vote.

But will it play like that?

Economic pressures

The MDC, for their part, have adopted the kind of strategy befitting a savvy student union. They have anticipated every move - from the overprinting of ballot papers to the possibility of stuffed ballot-boxes.

They ran a campaign which ordinary Zimbabweans, unused to dissenting voices on television and the press, lapped up. Once the playing-field began to open up and the spectre of violence did not to rear its head, the party began demanding the electorate's attention.

Zimbabwe's new $50,000,000 note (4 April 2008)
"Our Land, Our Sovereignty", one of the slogans on the portraits of the president of the Republic, rang true to the convictions of the converted, but not to those feeling the pressure of 100,000% inflation

So what happened? For almost a decade, the opposition has been seen as hopelessly inept. Mr Mugabe could run rings around them politically.

A treason trial also hung over Mr Tsvangirai, his supporters frequently crossed the floor to the Zanu-PF benches in parliament, and there were often scenes of the beaten leaders showing off their broken limbs outside court and in hospital.

There were also seismic splits within the MDC's ranks, accusations of dictatorship against its leadership, and multiple arrest warrants issued for their supporters for alleged crimes ranging from "political nuisance" to murder.

The Zanu-PF believed it had done enough to ensure victory last week.

"Our Land, Our Sovereignty", one of the slogans on the portraits of the president of the Republic, rang true to the convictions of the converted, but not to those feeling the enormous pressure of 100,000% inflation.

The border-jumpers, the closed schools, the dire statistics - as much as they could be blamed on Western media and a real unwillingness to extend lines of credit to Zimbabwean manufacturers and farmers, they could not be understood by the electorate.

Too many questions

"We have taught you the meaning of self-sacrifice," the people heard Mr Mugabe say a day or so before the polls opened.

But they found it difficult to believe that the same lesson had been swallowed by his cabinet. And the big scalps that fell as the results came through - from the justice minister downwards - showed their cynicism.

Morgan Tsvangirai (1 April 2008)
Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC has ended Mr Mugabe's grip on parliament

It is now almost impossible to reach Mr Mugabe's talkative and approachable spokespersons.

Is the opposition a government-in-waiting, or is it now painfully aware of the dangers of triumphalism? Have its leaders gone into hiding, watching the re-clenching of a fist they have been all too familiar with? There are too many questions.

The president, a proud man, is said to be asking over whom he will preside, now that many of his ministers have lost their seats.

It must also be said that very few leaders in post-independence Africa have so dominated the story of one nation by the sheer force of their personality.

Mr Mugabe is a living myth to friend and foe alike, and Zanu-PF has not yet found a way to emerge from his immense shadow.

What if he has had enough but his followers, lacking his convictions and afraid of life after him, decide to keep him firmly enthroned for their own reasons?

Until he says something and until the people know the election result, Harare will fill itself on rumour and 40m-dollar beers.


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