Dispatches from a blighted land

Mugabe's intimidation failed to stop the people demanding that their voices be heard. The Independent on Sunday's special team of correspondents report from around the country on a historic day
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Matabeleland north
By Mkhululi Njabuliso

This was a big source of support for Morgan Tsvangirai in the 2002 elections. Betty Sithuthu, said: "We just hope that this voting of ours will change the way that we are living here .... We hope the new government coming in will look after us and our children." Her neighbour, Sagodolu Sikhosana, said: "Things have been too hard for too long. There needs to be a change."

There were pockets of trouble. One polling station, in a ward of mainly white voters, ran out of ballot papers by 10am, just a few hours after voting had started. By lunchtime, voters were still waiting to cast their votes. More ballots were expected, though some voters reportedly left before casting their votes.

In Victoria Falls, north of Bulawayo, six voters were reportedly turned away as they sought to use their driver's licences as identification. The law permit voters to use licences or identity documents and passports as identification when casting their votes.

By Crosby Mhizha

Winding queues of 200 to 300 people had formed outside polling stations in Zimbabwe's second largest city two hours before voting started. Voters feared being closed out when the voting ended at 7pm.

But in Lobengula West, a queue for water was longer than that at the polling station. Some suburbs in Bulawayo have gone for a week without water, after council authorities grounded most of its fleet owing to non-delivery of fuel from the quasi-governmental National Oil Company.

The city's commercial centre and some of the suburbs were packed with cars bedecked with posters, while other campaigners mounted amplifiers and hailers on the vehicles bidding to woo undecided voters.

Reports from the Plumtree border town say residents were subjected to boisterous singing all night long from Zanu-PF supporters drumming up support for their party.

On the eve of the elections, voters in bus queues at the Egodini terminus were openly expressing their political preferences with a running theme that "things had gone too far and change was necessary for a better future".

Matabeleland South
By Mashudu Mashudu

Disgruntled war veterans at the Beitbridge border post between Zimbabwe and South Africa said they were nothing to do with the "bogus" ex-combatants normally identified as among Mugabe's most vociferous supporters. Instead, as they queued patiently, they insisted they were voting yesterday to remove the veteran leader.

Once again, the shortage of ballot papers was a stumbling block as a majority of the unemployed youths, presumably MDC followers, had not yet voted by 5.30pm – an hour and a half before voting closed. A drive around other polling centres at Lutumba, Tongwe, Malala and Chapfuche revealed that most were virtually at a standstill due to a lack of ballot papers.

There was anger about this. Machakaire Mkhokeli Nyoni of Beitbridge said: "This is the time for the entire world to act against Mugabe. Is the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission telling the world that it did not know about the registered number of voters, who were supposed to cast they ballot papers? This shows a well-calculated rigging strategy by the ruling regime."

By Marcus Mushonga and John Makura

Some voters from Harare's high-density suburbs yesterday alleged that police and army units had patrolled overnight, but that did not scare off many voters. "That is intimidation, but we will not be cowed," said Rodwell Shoshore in the Harare township of Highfield. And Samuel Furutsa, a voter in Mufakose township, said: "They brought in armoured vehicles and water tanks and lots of police. Tell us, what is that supposed to mean? We have nothing to lose, my friend, but we are hungry, I tell you."

Voting was largely peaceful, and, although the opposition feared many supporters will not have time to vote, polling stations had largely dealt with voters by about 2pm.

An observer from the Pan-African Parliament said the longest queues in Harare were at two polling stations on the edge of a vacant plot where 8,450 people were registered as residents. The electoral commission has been asked for an explanation. US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said: "There are a lot of big question marks hanging over this election in terms of the integrity of the electoral process." One who agreed was Prince Matsika, who says he has voted in all past elections since independence. He said: "I have been turned away because they say my name is not on the voters' roll. It doesn't make sense, because I have never failed to vote before."

The midlands
By Clement Nhindiri

Violence broke out in Mkoba, a high-density suburb of Gweru city some 300 miles west of Harare in the Midlands province, when Zanu-PF youths attempted to block dozens of men and women, believed to be MDC followers, from voting.

The fight ensued at Gweru Urban, where the MDC candidate, Rodrick Rutsvara, was battling it out with the Zanu-PF candidate. There were no immediate reports of arrests. One victim, Mavis Gwande, said: "Elderly people voted first, but when some men and women appearing to be youthful emerged to vote, the Zanu-PF youths responded by shouting abuse at them. After realising that the voters would not be scared off, the Zanu-PF youths started throwing some stones." She sustained head injuries and was taken to hospital.

Both the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, and the Southern African Development Community and African Union election monitors were not available for comment over the violent clashes.

The opposition also reported that ballot papers ran out while several hundreds of their supporters were still in the queues. The province of Midlands was, in the 2002 elections, a Robert Mugabe stronghold. The third most populous area in the country, it voted 61 per cent for Mugabe, and 36 per cent for the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

By Khesani Phekiwa
More long queues were seen here in Zimbabwe's oldest city of Masvingo, about 400km south-east of Harare, where more than 200,000 registered voters were expected to cast their ballots yesterday. The long queues started forming outside polling stations as early as 6am.

The police deployed at the polling stations watched from a distance, while the South African Development Community and African Union observers visited the six centres before driving out to the rural areas.

Masvingo, the country's most populous province, is an opposition stronghold. "Voting is peaceful, though our main fear is the looming rigging," said Munashe Manenji, from the Mucheke Old suburb.

The chairman of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, George Chiweshe, dismissed any fears of rigging. He said that votes would be counted at the respective polling stations. However, the electorate here maintains that Robert Mugabe and the ruling party are liable use every trick in the book to retain power.