Glimmers of hope from the people of a ruined country

The abandoned brick kilns outside Bulawayo are a fitting backdrop to begin a journey through a ruined country. The derelict ovens and chimneys have been picked apart for anything that could be salvaged or sold. The blackened rubble that remains stretches for half a mile along the road to the capital, Harare, offering some shelter or a place to sleep for those who begin waiting for a lift from first light.

The lay-bys are like campsites, with crowds of arms beseeching the few passing vehicles to pull over and load up. Women carry babies strapped to their backs and crushing sacks of maize, children play in the dirt and the men sit and wait.

Nelson is the first to join me on the road outside Gweru. He's on his way to work as a security guard at a bank and as one of the few people in the country to still have a job he might have been expected to vote for the ruling party. But he hasn't. Like everyone else you can find he voted for Morgan Tsvangirai and he's getting worried at the long wait. "I heard on the radio that they announced five seats. After two days they announce five seats. Last time they told us after three hours." What does Nelson want to hear? I ask. "I want a new president. We need a new president. It has to be Morgan."

All along the road I hear echoes of that same sentiment from voters. And as the pink permanent ink fades from their fingers, the impatience for a result is growing. Even a toothless grandmother who speaks only Shona manages to make her feelings clear. She gestures at a defaced poster of the 28-year President and lets out a hateful hiss. We have understood each other.

There are police everywhere along the highway. Aside from the roadblocks that welcome you in and out of the larger towns, there are officers in green fatigues and soft hats waiting by the roadside. The decision to man every one of the 9,000 polling stations in the country with uniformed police – against electoral law – has stretched the force and they too must make their way home now.

Heavy rains in December have restored some of the lustre to Zimbabwe's landscape but their legacy, like everything else here, is complicated. The heavy rains flooded the winter cereal crop and washed away topsoil, so while the bush is green and the dams are filled, stomachs and pockets will stay empty.

On the outskirts of Harare there are two sets of roadblocks within half a kilometre of each other. The questions are perfunctory: Where are you going? Where is your licence? And the vehicle search is routine rather than tense.

A stone's throw from the second roadblock, posters of the Liberator stare down from the lampposts. Even with his fist raised he struggles to impress. Someone has spent hours going to each of the posters and painting over Mugabe's famous, ageless features with lurid yellow paint.

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