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Election views - 2002-02-19

With the approach of the presidential poll in Zimbabwe, voters are beginning to show signs of electoral fatigue. Adding to that is the violence that has been part of the campaign process over the past twelve months. "These elections should now just come and go", said Tambayi, a taxi driver in the capital, Harare, "we are tired of all this. Let the voting begin and whoever wins the other person should concede defeat. We now want to lead our normal lives," Tambayi – not his real name - associates the drop in his taxi business with the ongoing political upheavals. Tambayi is a young man; he describes himself as ambitious. One of his major goals is to raise money for Lobola or dowry for the woman he wants to marry. He says he doesn't really care who wins in the end, as long as it brings a return to viability for his business. But pressed further, he says, "Look, let's face it, we are all now into the white man's lifestyle, we like bread and butter which we only ate occasionally when we were growing up in the rural areas. Mugabe's plans about giving people land are fine, but how long will I have to wait before I profit from the land? I want things that give me money now." As he speaks, he also shows signs of impatience with the slow moving traffic in front of him.

Political analysts say the campaign is being fought on two fronts. Mr. Mugabe is promising land, while his main opponent, Morgan Tsvangirayi, is promising jobs. In general, those in the rural areas are expected vote for land, while those in the large towns are expected to vote for jobs. The analysts say since an estimated 70 percent of the population lives in the rural areas, and only 30 percent in the urban centers, one may assume that President Mugabe is assured of victory. But his popularity has been slipping, even in the rural areas that have been the traditional stronghold of ZANU PF. Many rural voters see his economic policies as a failure and his government as corrupt. Some would be more than willing to see his party lose power. Most see Morgan Tsvangirayi, a trade union leader of repute, as a formidable opponent. His party won almost half the seats in the 2000 parliamentary elections. But another Zimbabwean – a deliveryman we’ll call Wilfred - says that does not necessarily mean Mr. Tsvangirayi can win the presidency. "Tsvangirayi has messed up by associating too much with the whites," he adds. "He was a popular labor leader and because of that MDC became a popular labor party. So what does he need the whites for? He has given ZANU-PF the room to campaign against him." He is referring to video clips of white commercial farmers openly signing checks for Mr. Tsvangirayi's campaign. The clips have been played repeatedly on state television. Despite living generally peacefully since independence, blacks and whites are still suspicious of each other's intentions. Wilfred believes Mr. Tsvangirayi's frequent public appearances in the company of whites have robbed his party of what was originally an assured landslide victory. Analysts say the country’s first opposition leader, Edgar Tekere, committed political suicide when he joined hands with UDI leader Ian Smith's Conservative Alliance in the 1990 presidential election. Wilfred says he's no longer sure which way the poll will go – he thinks the possible result has moved from a 60 - 40 chance for Mr. Tsvangirayi to a 50 - 50 chance. He disagrees with Tambayi, who thinks land and whatever else the ruling party offers to an already fed up electorate will have no bearing on the outcome. "My brother I wouldn't be so sure. I have work mates who have been given stands (pieces of land) near the Snake Park and I have seen their enthusiasm for change wane. Do you think that when that man gets into the ballot box he will vote for someone who might take back that stand?" asked 40-year-old Wilfred. He is referring to an MDC parliamentarian who is on record as saying the MDC will restore land to the dispossessed white farmers. Scrutinizing this writer from head to toe once more and assuring himself he is safe to continue talking, Wilfred declares that the revolution that began with a mass job stay-away to protest President Mugabe's policies four years ago has been betrayed. He remains hopeful that there will be change after March 10th. But if there isn’t, he puts the blame squarely on Mr. Tsvangirayi.