Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Fist vs The Open Hand vs Clasped Hands

After all that has been said by all and sundry over the past months about the state of politics and the economy in Zimbabwe; after the opinions, wishes and predictions, it now falls on the people of Zimbabwe to pull their country out of the brink of total collapse or tie heavier weights on its underbelly.

The much awaited presidential election in Zimbabwe is here.

The candidates and their surrogates, journalists and observers, pundits and critics; have all had their say. Variously they have pontificated on who should win the election and why. Individual and collective opinions, wishes and hopes have been mixed with facts and reality to form predictions.

Depending on whom you talk to or whose account you read, the three main candidates; outgoing President Robert Mugabe (84) of the ruling Zanu PF party, main opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader, Morgan Tsvangirai (56) and Independent Simba Makoni (57) have been tipped to win this election.

The predictions are very compelling for each of them. Mugabe’s ominous fist of fury crushes all dissent so much that people would rather vote for him than face the wrath of his security machinery, we have been told.

Tsvangirai’s “change” mantra has been so loud and poignant this time around that voters no longer fear Mugabe’s promised Armageddon if they abandon him.

We have also been told that fresh-faced Makoni’s message of unity has resonated with a nation so tired of the polarizing status quo – on both sides of the political divide – that they will elect him enmass.

Well, they say words are cheap - or better still - action speaks louder than words. It is now time for the Zimbabwean voters to do what has always been their absolute right – to determine the country’s destiny on Saturday.

The choice they have may seem so simple. Vote old Bob out and manna will fall from heaven, the proverbial milk and honey will flow along the country’s rivers and the glory days of yesteryear will return instantly. Leave him in power and unprecedented doom will befall the entire nation. The reverse has been argued by Mugabe and his supporters.

It is assumed that Zimbabweans should and would vote one way or the other as a block.

Might it be that simple?

Will a peasant farmer in the remote Zambezi Valley feel compelled to vote for Makoni in the same way as a professor in the City of Bulawayo will be?

Can an MDC activist who was jailed and tortured for his political preference convince a government worker who benefited from the land redistribution exercise to dumb Mugabe?

Would a landless white farmer and a liberation war veteran agree to unite for the purpose of national peace, reconciliation and progress?

These are difficult questions to ask anyone, and yet, Zimbabweans have to ask themselves these questions and answer them through the ballot.

From afar, it seems easy to say: Mugabe is too old to remain in power and that he has ruined the country. It also seems easy to say Tsvangirai is unsophisticated and too polarizing and that Makoni is inexperienced and rather naïve.

But the fact is that a voter’s choice is based on immediate and local needs. Whether these needs are similar for every voter will only be seen after the election.

What is not in dispute is that the country is in ruin. Inflation runs beyond 100,000%, unemployment is rated at 80%, there is virtually no food or services and a quarter of the country’s 12 million people are in exile.

Those in the country – the voters – have endured various forms of human rights violations such that not a single one has escaped emotional, mental or physical persecution.

But on Saturday these same hobbled people have to pull their country out of the brink of total collapse or tie heavier weights on its underbelly and let it sink deeper into the abyss of misrule and economic plunder.

For better or worse; they have to make a choice. Is it gonna be Mugabe’s fist that threatens to crush all, Tsvangirai’s open palm of change or Makoni’s clasped hands of national unity?

Zimbabwean voters will tell us on Saturday.