Yesterday, for the first time in my life I queued up with thousands of other citizens of across the many corners of Zimbabwe to exercise my democratic and constitutional right to vote. At the crack of dawn I found myself braving the chilly and drizzly weather so that I could do my part and have my say in the future and direction this country will take in the next 5 years. Yesterday I voted in Zimbabwe’s harmonized elections to choose it’s President, Members of Parliament and Local Councilors as well as bring an end to the coalition government that had been running the country since the disputed and violence marred elections of 2008.
When I arrived at the polling station at Baring Primary school in Mutare just after 6am I was inspired and encouraged to see quite a number of mostly young Zimbabweans already queued up. Some had been at the polling station since as early 4am. Despite the cold weather the enthusiasm and optimism amongst the waiting electorate made me feel warm and fuzzy. The general atmosphere in the queue was vibrant, cordial and ironically apolitical.
I was also lucky enough to be standing just a few metres away from a man who was to be our entertainer in chief for the day. Throughout the whole time I was waiting for my turn to cast my vote he was regaling everyone around him with hilarious stories and anecdotes about the perils of philandering, witchcraft and a host of other subjects. Behind me I couldn’t help but overhear a group of young men debate whether it was worth spending US$70 on Converse all star sneaker ‘s when you could get a cheaper knockoff for about US$7. That was as antagonistic as the atmosphere got. Not once did the conversations I was privy to turn political. Neither did I witness or hear of any violence, intimidation or attempts to influence voting during the almost 3 hours that I had to wait to cast my vote. This seemed a far cry from the atmosphere of fear and the stories of intimidation and violence I had read and heard about during the last chaotic vote of 2008. This had resulted in the withdrawal of the main opposition candidate from the second round of elections. All these factors contributed to the whole election process being discredited and necessitated the formation of the coalition government that has been running the country since.
As someone who has lived outside Zimbabwe ever since I was old enough to vote yesterday was a particularly important day for me in my growth as a person. Also having recently returned to my Motherland it was a symbolic and gratifying experience. It was not just the first time at the age of 29 that I got to vote but also the first I got to have a say and be on the ground and not just be an observer in the collective process of determining the destiny of my country. For the first time I was not sitting behind a computer in a foreign land incessantly checking news and social media websites for the often gloomy and disparaging reports about the electoral process and general state of affairs in my beloved Zimbabwe. I was there to witness first hand and participate. I have never felt more Zimbabwean than I felt yesterday in voting booth. It is also my wish that in the next 5 years God willing I will have started my own family. So it wasn’t just my future that was at stake but I was thinking about the kind of Zimbabwe I would like to settle down and raise my family in.
As a first time voter I tried as best as I practically could to keep an open mind about how I was going to vote. From my personal experience I have learned that politics is an emotive issue. That even the most intellectual and critical thinker’s are prone to being subjective in their political opinions. Objectivity is a rare quality in politics. With that in mind I was determined to make up my own mind and not let anyone not matter how much I respected or loved them influence my vote. To that end I made it my core business to familiarise myself with the election campaigns of the two main political parties (ZANU (PF) and MDC-T) than had a realistic chance of governing this beautiful country. During this process I found the local media both private and state controlled media reporting sensationalized and extremely partisan. The international media was no different with the exception of Al Jazeera English which I found to be highly professional, balanced and objective in their coverage of the election campaigns and the election itself. CNN, BBC and other international news broadcasters I found to be just as partisan as the local state controlled broadcaster ZBC.
What was encouraging from my own following of the election campaign though was the repeated and sincere calls from all sides of the political divide to citizens and candidates alike to campaign peaceful and shun the violence that characterized and marred the last election. A call I felt was heeded across the board which was testament to our growth and levels of political maturity and tolerance as a nation.
It’s the morning after the election. Whilst I had to wait for 3hours to cast my vote the actual voting process took less than 5 minutes with no glitches. I feel I was given a fair chance to have my say. This seems to have the case from most people I have been in contact with. I have however read of instances were some people were turned away for not being on the voter’s roll or turning up at the wrong polling station. Still I believe the dark cloud of the 2008 has gone and this makes me so proud to be a Zimbabwean.
Both main candidates have said this is the most important election since 1980 when Zimbabwe got it’s independence. For me it is the most important election because I actually played my part and got to have my say. It is also encouraging that the main African Union election observer group has declared the election environment free and fair. I realise that as voter’s we can’t help but be intrinsically selfish in what we expect to be the outcome. Every voter would like the candidate or party they voted to be the candidate who ends up winning and governing. Unfortunately that is not what happens. The best you can hope for is that the majority voted the same as you. What I hope though is that whatever the outcome whether the candidate I voted for wins or not the wishes of the majority of the people of Zimbabwe are accepted and respected. Because that is how a democracy works.