AT dawn last Saturday thousands of people were already in queues outside polling stations throughout Zimbabwe to cast their votes in the countryâ€™s historic poll.
Some of the voters slept at the polling stations while others were heading there after dawn and, as the sun set, they did not despair; they remained in the queues to make sure they cast their ballots.
At a polling station in Glen Norah, Harare, some voters were seen casting their ballot by candlelight after a power cut in the high-density suburb.
While the voting process went on smoothly and was generally peaceful, the voter turnout throughout the country averaged below 50% and there were cases of intimidation and violence recorded by both the police and civic organisations.
At Murehwaâ€™s Juru Growth Point, voting started as scheduled at 7am at the council offices and police officers were seen pulling down election candidatesâ€™ posters that were plastered on shops within theÂ prohibited 100m from the polling station.
There were 37 voters waiting to cast their ballots at the station.
The largest number of voters was at the Public Service Commission at Murehwa Centre (Murehwa West constituency) where there were over 60 people in the queue.
An election observer at the polling station said about 100 people had voted between 7am and 8am. The observer said the voting exercise was proceeding at a â€œhelter-skelter paceâ€.
â€œThe turnout here is low, but I think it is a result of increased polling stations and that the elections are ward-based,â€ the observer from a church organisation said.
At Mushaninga Pre-School in the same constituency, only 80 people had cast their ballots and seven were in the queue awaiting their turn.
The low voter turnout characterised the elections throughout Zimbabwe, but those who voted yearned for their preferred candidates to win.
A second year student at the University of Zimbabwe who identified herself as Tatenda was hopeful that the elections would usher in a new government.
â€œI hope we get a new government because the economic crisis in the country has affected the education system,â€ Tatenda said.
The student added that collapsing infrastructure and the deterioration in the quality of education at the university was a reflection of what has become of Zimbabwe.
â€œWe sometimes have no power, water and accommodation at the campus and lecturers are always on strike and if (President Robert) Mugabe wins then our future as youths is doomed.â€
However, a newly resettled farmer in the Nyabira area said he hoped Mugabe wins.
â€œMugabe is a liberator and he has given land to his people and that is why we will keep on voting for him,â€ the farmer said.Â
Civil organisation, the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (Zesn), said while the election was generally smooth, it had received some reports of intimidation.
The organisation said although the presence of police officers at polling stations was to maintain order, it was concerned with the deployment of large numbers of security forces as reported in Makoni Central constituency as this was likely to lead to voter intimidation.
Zesn said it received a disturbing report from Insiza North involving a shooting incident after an altercation between opposition and ruling party supporters during an MDC Mutambara rally held on the eve of the election.
â€œThe altercation resulted in the death of a passerby who was hit by an MDC vehicle which had allegedly been shot at by Zanu PF supporters,â€ it said.
In Bulawayo, it was reported that the home of the Zanu PF candidate for Emakhandeni-Entumbane was bombed in the early hours of Saturday,â€ reported the Zesn.
Zesn said incidents of intimidation were recorded in Chegutu West at Lowood Farm polling station where a Zanu PF polling agent was advising people on how to vote and similar reports were recorded in Mudzi constituency at Nyemanyora polling station.
According to the Zesn, a number of people failed to vote after they were turned away for various reasons, including wrong identification particulars.
â€œA number of people were turned away for reasons including wrong wards, wrong identification particulars like driversâ€™ licences or photocopied IDs, or, in the case of some polling stations, failure to produce renunciation certificates for those foreign-born,â€ the network said.
Inconsistencies in the votersâ€™ roll were also noted by the Zesn.
â€œOne couple previously registered under Mt Pleasant discovered that one of the spousesâ€™ names was moved to Harare West. However, she managed to get help from the ZEC command centre in Mt Pleasant,â€ the network said.
Polling started at 7am in most parts of the country, except for some polling stations in Harareâ€™s Glen View South constituency and in Hwange Central.
At Haig Park School in Harare, MDC-Tsvangirai polling agents were initially turned away because the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) had not accredited them.
Zesn noted that there was inconsistency in the application of procedures by ZEC at various polling stations, for example in Harare Central voters were allowed to vote with registration certificates while in Mbare the commission did not allow that.
The network said in Mazowe South and at Summerdale polling station there were campaign materials within 100 metres.
Despite the elections ending on Saturday, the ZEC was yet to announce results of senatorial and presidential elections at the time of going to print five days later.
The ZEC only announced the outcome of the House of Assembly elections that saw the MDC-Tsvangirai party winning 99 seats, Zanu PF 97, MDC-Mutambara 10 and independent candidate Jonathan Moyo 1.
There will be three by-elections â€” in Redcliff, Pelandaba-Mpopoma and Gwanda South â€” after the deaths of candidates before the elections last Saturday.
A coalition of 18 civil societies on Tuesday wrote a petition to the African Union and Sadc heads of state complaining about the late release of the results.
â€œWe the civil society organisations from Zimbabwe therefore implore the Sadc and AU heads of state and government to urgently demand that President Robert Mugabe and his government should allow the election results to be released immediately without being
tampered with,â€ the organisations said. Â
The organisations, however, hailed the conduct of the polls.
â€œThere were less queues at polling stations and it looked like the majority of those who wanted to vote and whose names were on the votersâ€™ roll managed to vote without undue delays or major hassles,â€ said the organisations. They said the general environment inside the polling station and around the polling station was not hostile unlike in previous elections where cases of harassment of local observers were reported.
â€œIn this election there have
been few reports of intimidation or harassment of human rights defenders during the election day and the period immediately after,â€ they said.
The civics said the counting and posting of results at the polling stations for all to see was very well received and ordinary people
could be seen in numbers studying the results posted at the polling stations.
Constantine Chimakure/Lucia Makamure