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Zimbabwe / Post Election - 2002-03-21

The Presidential elections in Zimbabwe have come and not quite gone. Their disturbing shadow is still looming in the minds of many Zimbabweans. Describing the entire election process as an ordeal, Michael, a store clerk, says the worst is yet to come. "It's not over yet. I think the world reaction is what we must fear most," he says. He is among many Harare residents who feel they have been cheated in an election that gave President Robert Mugabe a 56 percent lead over his rival, Morgan Tsvangirai. What Michael fears is that the international community will reject the results, as the United States, France, Norway, Germany and the SADC Parliamentary Forum already have. He worries that they will impose or step up sanctions against Zimbabwe and says that will make him, as an ordinary man, suffer. On the streets of Harare, it's mostly quiet, perhaps largely due to the heavy police presence, some in riot gear. There isn’t the hustle and bustle typical of Harare, and those who roam its streets look pensive, if not dejected. There is no celebrating at all, making it appear that the presidential poll, described by many reporters as a landmark, crucial or watershed election, was a non event - so much ado about nothing. "Why aren't you celebrating?" a young cashier working at a Nando's Chickenland outlet cynically asks every other customer, giggling as she punches the till keys. There aren't many customers either; it's as if it's Sunday, not the midweek, whose celebration many Hararians love to cap by a visit to their favorite nightclub. The cashier, Brenda, explains that they had to close shop for about half an hour on the day the results were announced, after a small group of youths took to the streets to demonstrate against what they felt was an unfair election outcome. The demonstration didn't last long; she says police quickly reined them in. The huge demonstrations that many people expected if President Robert Mugabe retained power have not taken place, not even the general strike called by the Congress of Trade Unions, Zimbabwe’s main trade union group. And also, with the top hierarchy of the opposition Movement Democratic Change under police surveillance and charged with attempting to assassinate President Robert Mugabe, the MDC seems unable to organize any protests, although its leadership has rejected the election results. Not many people expect any meaningful demonstrations at the moment from an election-weary population. "You Zimbabweans are extraordinarily peaceful people. If this sort of thing had happened in South Africa, I tell you we would be walking on corpses right now," says Ryan Marais, a South African photographer. In a furniture shop in Harare's favorite shopping mall, underemployed workers group around the desk of one of their colleagues, Simon. He proffers what he believes will be the solution to Zimbabwe's future, after the controversial election. "Look, neither side will ever accept defeat. So instead of continuing to fight it out, why don't these politicians sit down and say, ‘Gentlemen, let's come together and work for the good of our country. Let's form some kind of government of national unity,’" the burly Simon says to his riveted audience. Good proposal. But the question is: who wants to go to the negotiating table as the loser?

(The names of the Zimbabweans quoted in this article have been changed.)