Saturday, June 28, 2008

From between the elections

After the first election we were shocked as a nation, it was all so calm, so peaceful. The parliament was won by the opposition, as well as the presidential vote. We foolishly believed that we were getting a new government. And many of us concluded that there was no way that the government and the president in particular, could manoeuvre out of this. He had lost, it was clear, it had to be accepted!

Oh no it did not! We have seen what can only be described as diabolical cleverness and demonic wickedness in the past months. Long delays in announcements, frustrating the work of the electoral commission, miring the issue in court proceedings ..... and then the violence. Slowly but steadily, well planned and orchestrated, the violence has grown. Intimidation has always been one of the political tools of this regime; in this election, it is the only tool. There is one sentence, indeed one word on the manifesto of this election campaign. It is the word “fear”. In past elections votes could be bought, bought with food, bought with promises, bought with land. Now the food has run out, promises are seen to be hollow, land is taken and misused. Now, votes must be coerced, and coerced through violence.

And what is happening? In the rural areas, whole villages are being intimidated, chiefs are being threatened with reprisals by the army should a village support the opposition, people are fleeing homes and living and sleeping in the bush for fear of beatings, rape, pillaging, and the burning of their homes by gangs of youths armed and mandated by the government. Youths are being given ruling party T shirts and formed into mobs, transported to areas other than their home areas and given the go ahead to beat and assault at whim. Rumours are that criminals have been released from prison on the proviso that they fulfil certain duties for the powers that be. Even in the cities violence has come. Commuter omnibuses, minicabs used for public transport are being stopped and the drivers beaten. Passengers have to get out and chant ruling party slogans or they are beaten. People are asked to repeat the party slogan and if they do not know it, they are beaten. A young man witnessed youths stopping a minibus, pulling out the driver and beating him on the street, without reprisal, without police interference. Reports come to our ears daily of acts of torture and oppression and violence, people are rounded up in areas and made to attend party rallies. Abductions happen regularly, murders occur and are unreported. The list could go on and on. And in the midst the government maintains the posture of pretended indignant integrity, hypocritically acting as though their hands are clean and the opposition had better stop the violence.