Back in March when I started planning this trip one of the things I was most excited for was the fact that I would be in Zimbabwe during the elections. A severe lack of democratic process and inept attempts at efficiency have been the defining characteristics of Zimbabwean elections for a long time now and in direct consequence, controversy and political fireworks have been a mainstay. These unfortunate circumstances make for a less than ideal political environment for the people of Zimbabwe but as a journalist it ensures there is never a lack of intriguing stories.
Since my arrival I have been able to sit in on a Constitutional Court hearing to decide the date of the election, a press conference announcing the formation of an opposition coalition and a few other events of a political nature but on Saturday I entered the belly of the beast… an MDC-T political rally in Manicaland, the party’s stronghold where it won 20 of 26 seats in the 2008 election.
The rally was taking place at Sakubva Stadium in Mutare, Zimbabwe’s third largest city located almost three hours east of Harare. I had heard stories of these political rallies. Thousands of people dressed in party coulours and regalia chanting and screaming with all the fervor they could muster. “The atmosphere can be quite something,” I was told. I was not disappointed.
As we approached the stadium I could tell this was going to be something special. People were crowding around the entrance, pushing to be a part of the already capacity crowd inside. I was already straining to hear my colleague from the newsroom as the sound of thousands of whistles and Vuvuzelas pierced the air. As we showed our press passes and were let into the middle of the stadium my mind began to make comparisons to political events I had attended in Canada in small legion halls with a few senior citizens with nothing better to do. What I was witnessing now was more akin to a sporting event. As I stood on the field doing a 360 scan of the packed bleachers, everyone dressed in red and chanting, I felt like I was back at a Toronto FC soccer game as the team took the field. I couldn’t help but smile.
As I scanned the crowd I could see men and women, both young and old who came out in droves to support their candidate for change. In the run up to the 2008 elections these type of mass MDC rallies were subject to vicious crack-downs from the police, by order of the Zanu-PF course. MDC members at rallies were arrested en-mass in an attempt to rid the country of large-scale opposition mobilisation. Although these rallies have been allowed to take place this time around they have not been without incident as Zanu-PF supporters have hassled MDC members at a few rallies across the country. This one, however, took place without incident.
Unfortunately, although all the party leaders were there, including current Prime Minister and Presidential hopeful Morgan Tsvangirai, all the speeches were made in Shona, one of the main languages here in Zimbabwe, so I wasn’t able to understand anything that was said. Despite my complete ignorance as to what was going on, the atmosphere and crowd reaction spoke for itself. It showed me thousands of people eager for change; thousands of people willing to come from all over the province to show their dedication and support to the man they believe can turn the tides. Tsvangirai will continue to rally support all over the country, as will his counterpart, and everything will continue on its collision course until July 31st when it remains to be seen whether or not this show of support in a stadium in Manicaland can translate into a changing of the guard in Harare.
Until next time!