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Page last updated at 10:34 GMT, Thursday, 10 April 2008 11:34 UK

Uncertainty dampens Harare's mood

Riot police in Harare

Esther (not her real name), 28, a professional living and working in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, is writing a regular diary on the challenges of leading a normal life.

Zimbabwe is suffering from an acute economic crisis. The country has the world's highest rate of annual inflation and just one in five has an official job.

It's been a stressful week because we keep waiting and waiting and waiting for the election results and as the days keep piling up we start wondering if we're going to be in this state of limbo forever.

The mood is a lot more deflated then it was last week when we all thought it was definite these guys were working out an exit strategy for the president.

I wouldn't say there's tension or a sense of an uprising of any sort - although there are a lot of police in full riot gear - moving in groups of five and on the streets - which is intimidating.

Man holding the new banknotes
Prices are rising and shop shelves are getting emptier

There are road blocks along four or five major roads coming from the suburbs.

Otherwise it's business as usual, except for one thing: everyone has become an expert or has an opinion about what's going on.

This is something you couldn't find in Zimbabwe three months ago - somebody openly admitting that they support the opposition.

Most of us believe that this whole delay is confirmation that opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai won the presidential election - not with a landslide majority but with enough - the 50% plus one vote - and there is no need for a rerun.

Had the ruling party won the election, they would have announced the results the Sunday after the election. This is the opinion that you will hear in the supermarket, in the queue for public transport, on the bus going home.

And that's what's different - there used to be this fear that an intelligence operator would hear you and pick you up and beat you up, but people have become fearless about their political opinions.

Laughable

This is because there is an information blackout and the media is controlled by the government and unfortunately in Zimbabwe that means 100% controlled by the ruling Zanu-PF party.

Rain in Harare this week
We've just had two days of heavy rains, which people see as a good omen

People I work with were all laughing about a headline in the state-run Herald newspaper on Wednesday: "Tsvangirai Begs for VP Post".

Actually one of them got a call from her sister saying, ""Have you seen today's headline? These people are just crazy!"

Of course I'm not denying that there are people in Harare who still support the ruling party who totally believe that headline, but the majority of people would laugh it off as a desperate measure - trying to fill in a void.

And there's a void in shops too which seem to be getting emptier.

There is this rumour going round (one of many) - I'm not sure how true it is - that quite a lot of factories are not producing because everyone's waiting for the election results - as far as I can see what's been sold is not being replaced.

Prices are still going up - last week my lunch of rice, chicken and salad cost Z$60m, this week it's Z$80m (about $1.50 on the black market).

We've just had two days of heavy rains, which people see as a good omen.

That's probably desperation on our part as we are desperate for something to happen - for the international community to intervene.

We've always been told it's an internal issue for the people of Zimbabwe to resolve - so we did do something: we went out there to vote and these guys won't accept the results - so surely now the world should intervene and force them to announce those results?

Now we'll grab at anything to read as a sign.


Esther answers questions sent in by readers.

Q: Is there still some what of a middle class in Zimbabwe or has that completely eroded by now. I realise the haves still have there manicured lawns and malls and the have-nots are the images we see on TV every day. But the people in between, have they joined the massive diaspora or have most been pushed into poverty? Also is there still a Greek community left in Harare?

Nikolaos Peroulas, USA

A: I wouldn't know about the Greek community, but we still do have manicured lawns. We have two classes here: There are some people who are perfectly fine driving the latest cars, their tanks are always full, they go and do their groceries in South Africa - they have others sources of income besides a Zim-dollar salary. The only problem is you can't get the luxuries that you used to get in Zimbabwe, you have to go outside the country for them. Then there are people who are really very poor - especially those that just rely only on their salaries - those people are in quite a desperate situation. So it's not as if we've all sunk into utter poverty it's just we live in a very oppressive society.

Q: What do you think the people will do if Mugabe announces he has won, as surely you cannot just sit by for another four years. Maybe if our government had any guts we should send in our troops.

Graeme Elliot, London, UK

A: We're living in this crazy atmosphere - we have police in full riot gear in the middle of the city and there's no riots going on - so there's a psychological repression going on, an unsaid statement: "Just try to do something and we'll see what we'll do to you." The message without being spoken out loud is on everybody's mind, so even if he says he has won the election I doubt that it will provoke a reaction. Besides, Zimbabweans are basing their hopes on the international community. We voted for change, the government is refusing to accept we voted for change.

Q: Esther, I applaud your bravery in sharing your experiences with the world. I was in Harare in 1993 when the police chased a robber down the street. While trying to shot the robber, the police shot shop windows, a car, and innocent bystanders. The next day, a rally was held to protest "police brutality". During the protest the police, in full riot gear, attacked the non-violent protesters and eventually anyone in downtown. My question is, do you think the police are just as volatile today or are they looking for change and unwilling to put themselves in harm's way to fight Zanu-PF's dirty work?

Tammy, Atlanta, Georgia, US

A: I think their dilemma will be: shall we stand with the people in the hopes that the people's will will prevail and there'll be a change in government in which case we'll be ok for not doing the dirty work; or shall we do Zanu's dirty work in case Robert Mugabe manages to change things around so that he does come into power? As of now they've been behaving, they haven't been beating people up.


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