I travelled up to Zimbabwe on Tuesday the 25th March to help the MDC Tsvangirai faction with election preparations. I volunteered to help three candidates , Joseph Mutsvanga from Zvimba East, Knox Danda from Zimbabwe West and Edward Musumbu from Norton.(For those who don't know, Zvimba is +/- 80 kilometers from Harare and is the area where Robert Mugabe was born. As such it is regarded as the ZANU PF heartland). The job I was given was to help prepare food packs for the MDC polling agents and to assist with deployment of the agents on the Friday before the election.
Knox Danda was unable to attend our final planning meeting on the Friday morning: he had been placed under house arrest by Nelson Samkange -the ZANU PF candidate. (Samkange was the former governor for Mashonaland West.)
He was told that he would be beaten or killed if he left his house to campaign on the Friday - or rather what remained of his house. Half of Knox's house was burnt down by Samkange's thugs on Thursday the 13th March in an attack that followed an MDC rally. Knox had reported the incident to the police station +/- 15 kilometres away but unfortunately the Police said they were unable to attend. Two weeks later and still the police had not reacted to the arson, despite being given the names of the perpetrators. Busy busy busy these Zimbabwean policemen.
Knox sent three of his polling agents to attend our planning meeting in his absence. All had been beaten by Samkange's thugs at the rally on the 13th. Once again the police had not yet been able to respond to the reports of assaults.
After we finished our planning meeting, I took one of the beaten polling agents to see one of the Election Observer teams. We got in to see the Pan African Parliament observer team. I explained to them that our candidate was unable to campaign on the last day before elections.
Whilst they agreed that this was indeed unfortunate, they said they were unable to leave their office in the Meikles Hotel. I said that this was unacceptable. They suggested I return at one o'clock to meet with the head of their delegation, the Honourable Khumalo. This I did.
The Honourable Khumalo agreed that the fact that our candidate had his house burnt down was unfortunate; ditto his inability to campaign; ditto the numerous beatings that had been meted out to MDC supporters.
But he was unfortunately unable to travel to Zvimba to meet with Knox. The soonest he would be able to do so would be the Sunday- the day after the election. Take it or leave it. I said I'd take it and made arrangements to take him out on the Sunday to show him the ruins of both Knox's house and his election campaign.
Whilst I was meeting with the observers, deployment of the agents was taking place.
With our limited resources - 3 pickup trucks and a Mazda sedan - deploying close under 700 brave men and women across the width and breadth of the three constituencies was a mammoth task that took the whole of Friday night; it did not pass without incident.
At 2 o'clock in the morning at Hilbre Estates in the Zvimba East constituency one of our drivers was brutally assaulted by a Central Intelligence Organization operative by the name of Francis Mutandariwa - coincidentally both a close relative of Robert Mugabe and a candidate in the Local Government elections. Mutandirwa chased the MDC driver in his pickup truck and tried to run him off the road on numerous occasions. The assault was reported to the Nybaria Police Station but they were too busy to react.
John Stanton, a friend from Johannesburg, and I set out early on the Saturday morning with Nixon the chief election agent and two other polling agents to check that all the MDC polling agents at the one hundred and forty off polling stations were in place and that there was no fenookery on the go. Alas. We bumped into said fernookery at one of the first polling stations we visited - Gwebi College.
We found a party on the go in the room right next to the polling station. The party/ beer drink was being hosted by Frank Sada, the incumbent ZANU PF councillor. Nixon felt that the sight of ZANU PF luminaries swilling beer in full sight of queuing voters could be construed as being intimidatory. The presiding officer, a government employee, felt different. And so we set off in search of an election observer.
Eventually we found what I think was the only observer assigned to Zvimba East and Zvimba West constituencies - an area of +/- 1000 square kilometres- at a polling station called Royden Farm.
We also found Patrick Zhwao, the incumbent ZANU PF member of parliament and yet another Mugabe nephew there. ( I know hamsters with smaller extended families.) A charming dread locked young man with designer jeans, pointy Italian shoes and a crocodile smile, Patrick engaged John and I in light hearted banter. He wanted to know why we had chosen a losing party to support. I suggested that given the fact the votes hadn't been counted that his observations were premature - unless of course he knew something I didn't.
We left Zhwao and went to where the lonely observer was sitting to complain about the beer drink at the Gwebi polling station. The observer tut tutted quietly but unfortunately, due to a lack of transport, he wasn't going to be able to react. I offered him a lift. But unfortunately with voters streaming into the Royden Farm polling station at a rate of about five an hour he wasn't going to be able to leave Royden. Alas.
Zhwaoa , who I am sure listened in on our conversation, left the polling station with his groupies in his shiny brand spanking new double cab. After another five minutes spent with Nixon trying to persuade the observer to do his duty, we followed suit.
After a kilometre we were waved down by a group of very young children. They warned us the road was blocked, and so it was; by Patrick Zhuwao.
I assured John that Zhuwao wouldn't try anything on polling day. My sphincter wasn't so sure and urged me to flee. Being a devout coward with a pain threshold as low as the thugs in Zhuwao's car, I was very keen to heed my sphincter's advice, but alas I couldn't. The road we were on was too narrow to overtake and we were forced to follow Zhwao as he crept along at 20 kilometres an hour. Ever the optimist I figured he was nursing the aforementioned shiny new car.
About 300 meters from the main road Patrick , with a his crocodile smile, pulled over and waved us on. I pulled on to the main road with a huge sense of relief. Alas. Mutandariwa, the other Mugabe nephew, was waiting for us with a truck full of fist waving thugs. My sphincter took over and we fled - at speeds I did not know my Tata pick up was capable of. At times we were driving at 160 kilometers an hour, over some of the worst roads I have ever driven on. With Mutandariwa and friends right up my almost busy bum. And every time I looked in the rear view mirror, Nixon and his polling agents were throwing 'Vote For Morgan' stickers at Mutandariwa. Super. More reason for the veins on the man's neck to stick out.
We were fifty kilometres from Harare. I headed for Meikles Hotel with its rooms bulging full of busy busy observers. Alas. On the outskirts of Harare I bumped into a police road block. I toyed with the idea of running the block like they do in the movies but once again my sphincter prevailed and I didn't. The police waved us down.
Before we could explain ourselves to the police, Mutandawira roared up. He identified himself as Military Intelligence and grabbed my car keys and John and my passports. He told the cops to holds us whilst he went off reinforcements. In Zimbabwe C.I.O. or Charley Ten as they are more commonly known, do not have powers of arrest. I begged the young policeman who was in charge of the road block to not let Mutandawira to take us away when he returned. He was a very brave young man and he stood his ground when Mutandawira and another car full of thugs returned. He told them that he would affect the arrest and that he would hand us over to his superior in the Traffic Department at Harare Central.
Long story cut short - we ended up in the Law Order offices - another reason for my sphincter to announce its presence. Law and Order handle political crimes and were the ones who beat Morgan to within an inch of his life.
Thankfully John and I were travelling on foreign passports. During the crazy car chase John had banged off a million text messages to observers, the media, Tendai Biti and Roy Bennet of the MDC and anyone else he could think of.
The Chief Superintendent of the Law and Order section, a charming gentleman who had obviously never quite got over the fact that his mother never loved him, didn't bother to ask for our version of events. He preferred the C.I.O. version which had us distributing MDC campaign materials at polling stations. We pointed that the police at those polling stations would surely have arrested us on the spot. Undaunted he ordered us to be fingerprinted; we also had to fill out Accused Profiles. The bit about what crimes we were being accused of remained blank.
Eventually the lawyers that Tendai Biti organized arrived. They were amazing and had obviously been there and done that a million times. We weren't their only clients in the Law and Order section that night. They were looking after some dastardly fiends accused of waving (the pen hand is the main MDC slogan) and even Chipo Chung -the daughter of Fay Chung, Mugabe's former Minister of Education, who had committed the heinous crime of taking a camera to within 300 meters of a polling station. She never took a photo but just having the camera was enough to get thrown into cells for the night.
At 10 o'clock the next morning we were finally asked to give statements. Whilst doing this a junior policeman received a phone call. She listened intently, hung up and told us that we had won. She gave a little dance of celebration and then hugged us. The MDC had won. The phone call had been from a friend at the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.
I burst into tears. Morgan and the MDC had cleaned up in both the House of Assembly and Presidential races.
The only good thing that Thabo Mbeki managed to achieve in his months of negotiations was to force Mugabe to allow the vote count to be posted outside each and every polling station. And each and every Constituency Command Post, in full view of the people of Zimbabwe who did the sums. Morgan and his MDC faction won more than 60%.
But the mood soured when a senior police officer entered the room. He was also crying but his weren't tears of joy. His career as a torturer was nearing an end.
Another long story cut short... at about twelve o'clock we were given our passports back and told that we were free to go - without the keys of the mighty Tata unfortunately. I will have to go back and fetch that another day.
John and I flew out on a plane at 6 o'clock.
We left behind a lot of brave people who didn't have the luxury of foreign passports that they could hide behind. Like Knox Danda who phoned me on the Sunday, still too frightened to leave what remains of his home but still waiting for the Honourable Khumalo to come out and rescue him. Alas. I fear that he is still waiting.
I see the Honourable Khumalo and his Pan African Parliament team have since described the elections as being largely free and fair. I sit here in SA watching the farce as Mugabe's commits a massive crime and steals a whole country.
But an even bigger crime will be committed by the South African government if they let him get away with it.
Sokwanele received this first-hand testimony by email