Saturday, June 21, 2008

Harare diary: Militias reach town

Continuing series of a diary of life in the hell that is Zimbabwe.

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Esther (not her real name), 28, a professional living and working in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, is writing a regular diary on the challenges of leading a normal life.

Zimbabwe is suffering from an acute economic crisis. The country has the world's highest rate of inflation and just one in five has an official job.

The presidential run-off on June 27 is now only days away, and campaigning has been taken up several notches. Almost every public transport vehicle has a poster of President R G Mugabe - "For total independence & total control"

Almost all the conductors and drivers of these vehicles are sporting Mugabe T-shirts and bandanas. I have heard they were told that if they want to continue to ply their current routes, then they have to wear the regalia, and not tear off the posters.

Mr Mugabe seems to be campaigning quite frantically, one hears the presidential helicopter droning overhead every other day on the way to the rural areas for rallies. Or maybe it is just that we cannot compare his level of activity to that of (opposition leader) Morgan Tsvangirai.

Political rallies are officially banned, but of course Mugabe can go ahead and hold his. Zanu-PF rallies are being held throughout Zimbabwe.

But it has not thwarted Mr Tsvangirai, he simply has "walkabouts" where he turns up at villages and shopping centres, and talks to the few people there, as individuals or in small groups. The only problem is that the crowds swell very quickly as word spreads that "the President" is in the area then he has to leave lest he be charged with violating the ban.

The urbanites are now getting a taste of what post-election life has been like in the rural areas. War veterans' "bases" have been set up in most of the "locations" - high density areas.

There are so many conversations I have overheard of men complaining they had no sleep as they spent the whole night at a base, singing revolutionary songs.

I have also heard that passengers on public buses find the buses get diverted to the local war veterans' base and others have to walk home because the transport operators have pulled out fearing for their safety. There are young men moving from house to house, recording the names of all the young people who reside there. No-one knows what they are to be used for.

I have colleagues who are thinking of petitioning our employer to shut down next week, just in case all this escalates.

We have all learnt an important lesson - not knowing the Zanu-PF slogan can cost you a beating or worse.

Youth militia have set up roadblocks on the outskirts of the city where they randomly stop vehicles, ask the passengers to disembark and chant the slogan. Anyone who fails to cannot proceed with their journey until they have been "taught".

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