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28 March 2008

Zimbabwe’s mock elections

Zimbabwe Vigil coordinator Rose Benton on the vote in Zimbabwe and how her group plans to hold "mock

By Rose Benton

Every Saturday since October 2002 the Zimbabwe Vigil, which I coordinate, has held protests at the Zimbabwe Embassy. The Observer describes us as the largest regular demonstration in London. I suppose they are right. But it’s not really about numbers. In the early days we were sometimes down to only a handful of participants but now we regularly have 200 people a week.

I was born in Zimbabwe (so was my father) but we left in the late 1960s because my husband and I did not like the government. Since then we have lived in the UK and brought up our children here though we are in regular contact with relatives who remained in Zimbabwe.

In 2000 one of my sisters in Zimbabwe was very distressed about the way things were going. She asked “Is there anything you can do there to help?” I visited her in 2001 and saw for myself how bad things were. We got Zim $100 to £1 and everywhere we went there was desperation. When we visited the Matobo National Park, the people selling craftwork said they seldom saw anyone – we tried to buy one item from each person just to help them survive. I was taken to see the farm where I had been brought up. It had been occupied by Zimbabwean African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) war veterans. Now it is derelict.

When I returned to London I joined a group of like-minded people and from this group the Vigil started and I became co-ordinator.

It has been an interesting ride in our five years of protests during all weathers. We meet the varied passers-by who go down the Strand and they have been overwhelmingly sympathetic. We have lobbied and petitioned: the UN, the EU, the British government, the African Union, the Southern African Development Community, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, etc. Every year we have said it can’t last another year and it does.

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We are constantly in touch with people in Zimbabwe and we have held extra protests to mirror protests there. We have held mock elections here in 2002 and 2005 marking elections at home only for our hopes to be dashed when the elections are stolen through violence, stuffed ballot boxes and a rigged voters’ roll.

Once again there are elections in Zimbabwe this coming weekend and once again the Zimbabwe Vigil is staging a mock election outside the Zimbabwe Embassy in London on Saturday March 29th. This time the Vigil has no hope that the elections will not be rigged. We are planning media events to show how the elections will be stolen: an actor in a Mugabe mask stuffing the ballot box, army and police welcoming friendly observers and turning away Western observers, dead voters jumping our of coffins to line up to vote, etc.

Well, Mugabe will announce his Presidency next week (the counting of votes has been moved to a command centre manned by the army) but will this be allowed to stand this time? The ruined economy may be his downfall and his own party may ensure he is not allowed to continue. You now need Zim $130,000,000 to buy one pound sterling. Compare that to Zim $100 in 2001. Since then the governor of the bank of Zimbabwe has taken 3 zeros off the currency so in reality today’s figure is Zim $130,000,000,000. What inflation rate is that? I can’t work out the zeros.

People are really suffering in Zimbabwe. An old friend, a Zimbabwean pastor, came to see me the other day and said people just can’t go on. I think he is right and things must change this year. Apart from anything else I want my Saturdays back for when my first grandchild arrives later this year.

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