Across Zimbabwe, red rags signify a nation in mourning

Red rags have been tied around lamp posts that don't light and hung from bus shelters. Giant V-signs have been painted over the pot-holed thoroughfares. Bulawayo, the opposition stronghold, awakes today to find it has been painted red. As Zimbabweans turn out to vote in a one-man election, a final message of defiance was being daubed overnight on the only public space available to the opposition: the roads.

What should have been a final push to vote out the deeply unpopular President Robert Mugabe had become an underground operation to demonstrate a public show of anger, and a political boycott.

One of the key organisers of the Movement for Democratic Change's "red campaign" who identified himself only as Thomas, said the symbolism was clear. "Red is the colour of the MDC. In African culture, it is also the colour of mourning. We are mourning the death of democracy, or the little we had of democracy."

Police, soldiers, ruling party youth militia, security officers and the so-called war veterans were heading for polling stations last night. Thomas and other opposition activists like him were gathering volunteers. The MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, speaking from the Dutch embassy in Harare where he is taking refuge, advised his supporters to offer no resistance if they are forcibly "frogmarched" to the polls today.

"They should go," he told the BBC World Service. "If they even vote for Zanu-PF, if they even vote for Mugabe, what does that change? It makes no difference because the vote is a fraud anyway."

But the opposition, supposedly crushed by the worst violence the country has witnessed since the Matabeleland massacres of the Gukuruhundi in the 1980s was nevertheless determined to make a non-violent show of force.

Some slogans painted on the crumbling Tarmac read simply, "Don't go vote". Others struck a defiant note with a giant "V" for victory covering two lanes. Even this peaceful protest is dangerous in a country where the full force of the state has been turned on voters to prolong the rule of a government that lost the 29 March election by a clear margin, despite all its efforts to bribe and intimidate.

Days ago, the 84-year-old President promised "dire consequences" for anyone found without the indelible red-ink mark on a finger to show that they had voted. But the MDC is trying to deny the regime the big turnout it has so ruthlessly sought. The rural areas where the worst of the torture, murder and coercion has been committed are now out of reach to the opposition whose officials have either been imprisoned, killed or fled. The results from the terrorised rural areas such as Mashonaland and Manicaland is expected to be a resounding, if empty, "yes" vote for another term of the only President Zimbabwe has known.

In town, the backing for a boycott of the presidential run-off is near total. "My family in the rural areas are being beaten and forced to stay up all night and chant slogans like in the liberation struggle," said a young man who identified himself as Felix. "They've told me not to come home. You can get food only with a Zanu party card. We all know the election has been rigged. Everyone knows Mugabe could not win any other way. The people are tired of him."

Like so many who have stayed on, Felix is prepared to wait. "I want to be here when Mugabe goes. I want to see him go."

Mpopoma township outside Bulawayo is one of the few places where MDC supporters can still gather in public. Yesterday, crowds of young people gathered to collect red ribbons and pile into trucks. One girl wore a red T-shirt with the slogan, "Our demands are to stop police brutality".

As they gathered, buses pasted with yellow and green Mugabe posters pass by. The drivers have been forced to display the posters of Commander R Mugabe or they will be refused fuel. Yesterday, the fare was seven billion Zimbabwean dollars for a ride across town. Next week it will be 15 billion. Drivers who want to stay safe have been told to wear Zanu T-shirts.

Moyo, who has spent his life in opposition and watched his career as an electrical engineer and lecturer descend into subsistence as a black-market trader, said that insanity now rules his country. "With Mugabe, you have to factor in the madness," he said.

Since the decision to boycott today's vote, talk has turned increasingly to the possibility of an uprising. For the present, it remains just talk, with most people only too aware of the imbalance of military might between the ruling party and the opposition. One said: "In their minds they [Zanu] are still out in the bush. They are fighting a war but nobody is fighting them.

"Mugabe still shouts about Blair, but he has left the international scene. They are living in the past."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn