The polls are set to open on Friday in Zimbabwe, despite calls from the world community to postpone the elections because of political, social and economic unrest in the country. Nelson Mandela is among the most recent leaders to condemn Mugabe and the violence there. Charlayne Hunter-Gault, a writer for The Root, is like many Western journalists, barred from entering Zimbabwe. But, she has kept up with her contacts inside the country with credible people she has learned to trust over the years, confident their first-hand reports will not compromise her own credibility and equally confident that it is important to tell the ongoing story from every possible angle. Here is a first-hand look from a writer whose identity is being kept secret because of safety concerns.
The 'Biti' referred to is Tendai Biti, the secretary general of the MDC who is under arrest and charged with treason for among other things, communicating statements prejudicial to the state. This piece was written before the news of the Tsvangirai pullout. ZANU referred to is the ruling party of Robert Mugabe.
ZIMBABWE—Every effort is being directed at putting out the light.
MDC has been banned, by the "ruling party" from campaigning on local TV. People have been told to take down their satellites as they are picking up "outside" news reports. Wind-up radios have been declared a tool of the opposition.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been banned. Recharge cards are unavailable for many cell phone networks—no juice. Many land lines are down—cables stolen. Biti is still in jail. Militia camps have been set up in all high-density and many low-density suburbs in Harare. ZANU youth roam the streets at night forcing people into all-night rallies to join the ranks of the destruction.
E's old father left his rural home last week, threatened by ZANU youths for voting wrongly. Last night he had to return, called back by the invaders to face them; or "we will burn the whole village." An old man held to ransom, showing such courage…his fate is still unknown.
It is a dark curtain that has been pulled over the land, and yet…the light still shines.
It shines in small bubbles of the back yard of a mechanic's garden, where they celebrate work completed on his minivan by sitting in the back and imagining the places they will visit—the mechanic, his wife, their two large dogs, the assistant mechanic and the old sekuru (grandfather) who cleans the yard.
All crowded into the back, imagine what they were seeing, a wonderful escape without moving. Out of the isolation of having the home fires broken; they gather in an old woman's small kitchen at night—a mother with her three children from a house in the next suburb, an old woman who has brought two girls in from the rural areas, a man who has his arm in plaster from a police beating in Marondera.
All have walked through the fire; new found friends at a new fire gently pray for this to end in the circle at Kufunda. They dedicate this time to gathering their gifts and holding their spirits in a suburban garden where an activists sits—alone at the foot of an oak tree watching the leaves fall, listening to its wisdom.
This is where 70 young children are left behind in the invasion of their villages. They're being cared for, awaiting their scattered parents return, on our veranda at night. Watching the gold of the sunset through masasas and the bush babies at the feeding tray and the acrobatics of two joyful Jack Russells from our back door in the morning. Counting the new flowering of the sweet peas from this place of such beauty and courage and grief to a web of light out there that holds us.
I wish you a golden sunset.
Charlayne Hunter-Gault is a regular contributor to The Root.