Polls not free in Uzumba

HARARE - “We were told that if the MDC wins we are going to teach you a lesson,” an elderly man who owns a bottle store deep in Uzumba said between sips of opaque beer.

He furtively looks around, afraid his tormentors maybe nearby.

After some time he continues with his story. A story of pain and regrets, he spoke about the fowl he had to pay to the village head, the house he lost in 2008 at the hands of Zanu PF supporters, the pain of not accessing food aid because of his political beliefs and the fear he has that after the elections, if Zanu PF loses he would lose everything.

“This is certainly a no go area for the opposition, here Zanu PF rules and the word of the party leaders is law,” he said.

That was Monday last week when the country went to vote in the harmonised elections that were won controversially by Zanu PF and its leader Emmerson Mnangagwa.

It was on the voting day when the Daily News on Sunday visited this semi-arid and mountainous area with rocky hills and dusty roads.

Everyone had to vote and those who belonged to the MDC had to be assisted to cast their ballots, and at some polling stations the MDC Alliance did not get a single vote.

MDC losing candidate for the constituency — famous for scoring big for the ruling party in previous polls — Pearson Kazingizi was furious after he witnessed a young man he knew all too well being assisted to vote.

“People were told that if you vote for the MDC Alliance there is going to be a run-off, hence will suffer the consequences. I have never seen such intimidation and I made reports to the presiding officers.

“There are a lot of people who are being intimidated. Even today people were campaigning close to the polling stations. Village heads were asking people to vote using a certain pattern.

“At Katiyo I called the police because there was someone who was directing the people to stand in a particular order. Our former councillor was being assisted to vote and after he had been assisted he signed a very good signature. In ward 13 and 10 people were assisted to vote and on Sunday they received food aid in a clear sign of vote buying.

Apart from that people were also bussed to polling stations and I am not sure if that is legal,” said Kazingizi.

At Mapfeka business centre village heads also assisted people to vote and took down names of all the people who came to vote, this the Daily News on Sunday witnessed from a safe distance.

While the African Union and Sadc, predictably described the poll outcome as credible the European Union (EU) was scathing in its assessment of the electoral period and picked electoral malpractices like vote buying and “smart intimidation”.

“There appeared to be a high degree of assisted voting in some places.

The vote count in polling stations was reasonably well organised, though procedures were not always followed, inconsistencies were noted and there was inadequate light in some places. The result was posted at the polling station in many instances, but not all,” the mission said.

The EU said there was intimidation of voters and lack of trust in the process, something that undermined the pre-election environment.

“However ... partisan behaviours by traditional leaders and over bias in State media, all in favour of the ruling party, meant that a truly level playing field was not yet achieved, which negatively impacted on the democratic character of the electoral environment...”

The EU also said there were inducements, coercion, and what it called “smart intimidation” mainly in rural areas. “State development projects, such as Command Livestock and Command Agriculture, were announced at Zanu PF campaign rallies and were widely publicised in the media,” the report said.

Thus scarred and scared many MDC Alliance supporters were hesitant to openly support the party of their choice and in Uzumba seemingly indulged their fellow villages to assist them with voting.

However, winning candidate for Uzumba, Simbaneuta Mudarikwa who polled more than 20 000 votes to his rival’s miserly 1 000 said the elections were fair and dismissed suggestions that Zanu PF activists compiled names of voters.

“It was a peaceful process and may the winner take it. We are happy because our people were able to cast their votes in a free and peaceful environment. Some people could have been turned away but this was due to technical issues. On the whole it was a peaceful process,” Mudarikwa.

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