Augustine Mukaro/Shakeman Mugari
Augustine Mukaro/Shakeman Mugari THE sight of election agents fanning themselves with sheets of paper outside deserted polling stations demonstrated graphically the staid ele
ction day in rural Zimbabwe yesterday.
One polling station after another in four provinces visited by Zimbabwe Independent reporters showed that by midday voters had generally been and gone.
In Mashonaland West, Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland East and parts of Manicaland generally viewed as ruling party strongholds, schools, farm buildings and local government offices that housed polling stations appeared abandoned. A handful of voters could be seen going through the voting process while election officials sat lazily on the grass.
Voting in Zanu PF strongholds of Bindura, Shamva and Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe (UMP) was characterised by a high turnout in the morning at almost all polling stations.
Visits to polling stations showed that by 13:00hrs most voters had cast their ballots at an average 400 voters per polling station.
The queues at the polling stations were far shorter than those that characterised Zimbabwe’s previous elections. Polling stations failed to clear voters in both 2000 and 2002 even though elections were held over two days.
Presiding officers at Chipadze Primary School, Wadzanayi Community Hall in Shamva and Chiwore Primary School in UMP attributed the short queues to the increase in the number of polling stations.
“UMP had 50 polling stations in 2002 and they have been increased to 90 for this election,” Rekayi Mahachi, a presiding officer at Chiwore polling station, said.
“We cannot comment on general voter turnout for the constituency until the data is consolidated at the command centre.”
Polling stations in Mashonaland West were increased by 82%, apparently because the Zanu PF government was confident of support there. This increase in the sparsely populated area is in dramatic contrast to Harare and other cities where polling stations were increased by relatively small margins.
In Manicaland virtually all schools and business centres were turned into polling stations resulting in stations being as close as two kilometres apart.
By noon most polling stations in the rural parts of Manicaland were deserted.
Polling officers at visited stations said most people had cast their vote early in the morning. The longest queues were witnessed in urban areas such as Marondera and Rusape.
In UMP polling officers and the police had problems communicating with the command centre at Mutawatawa Business Centre.
At Chiwore polling station the presiding officer and the police asked the Independent crew to take a note to the command centre requesting spare batteries for Icom radio sets.
“Could you please supply us with spare battery for Icom radio set because the supplied battery has gone flat,” read the note delivered by the Independent to Nyagande polling station for further communication to the command centre.
“My call number is U19. U71 also requires a spare battery so please provide either spare batteries or a vehicle to facilitate communication with the command centre.”
At Pote polling station in Shamva, police officers had to leave the station to get a signal to communicate with the command centre.
In rural areas of Manicaland and Mashonaland East voting started early but there were very few independent and foreign observers present.
There were no observers at 22 of the 24 polling stations visited by the Independent yesterday in Makoni North, Makoni East, Makoni West, Marondera, Wedza, Seke and some parts of Chitungwiza.
There was tension in Makoni North where anti-corruption minister Didymus Mutasa was battling it out with the MDC’s Elton Mangoma.
Some Zanu PF and MDC supporters were displaying campaign material at a polling station in Headlands, Makoni North. Supporters of both the MDC and Zanu PF were milling around the main road to the polling station.
Three Zanu PF youths were also arrested at a polling station in Headlands after attempting to record names of people who were coming to vote.
There were problems at Dewedzo Secondary School in Makoni West where police intervened to disperse six Zanu PF members who were having a meeting very close to the polling station.
Polling stations in Wedza were also deserted by around 13:00hrs. A presiding officer at Hwedza Secondary School said by 13:00hrs most people had cast their vote.