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."

peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits