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Election Impasse Spurs Emigration

Zimbabweans have been voting with their feet amidst mounting political uncertainty.
By Yamikani Mwando
A few weeks before the March 29 elections in Zimbabwe, Timothy Mthombeni decided he was not going to wait long enough to cast his ballot.

The 40-year-old father of four had a job but decided to leave for South Africa and send for his family once he had settled there.

He was sure life would get worse after the elections, not just as the economic crisis deepened and food shortages became greater, but also because he foresaw an outbreak of violence if the outcome was disputed.

He packed his bags and left to join a growing exodus from Zimbabwe.

This week, almost a month after the elections, 50-year-old Tabeth Zvirevo, a former domestic worker in a Bulawayo suburb – where she said wages were not too bad – also crossed the border to South Africa to look for work, blaming continued economic hardship.

"Maybe I would have stayed if [opposition leader Morgan] Tsvangirai had won," she said.

Zvirevo has children to care for, and having worked all her life, was not about to sit around after her employers left the country leaving her without no source of income.

“I don’t know what to do, but I am not staying here. There are no signs things will improve any time soon,” Zvirevo told IWPR.

She was speaking as the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission began controversial vote recounts in areas where the ruling ZANU-PF party says it was cheated of victory.

The threat of violence has become real for many in this troubled nation as they flee to neighbouring South Africa.

Zimbabwean human rights groups say there has been a dramatic increase in politically motivated violence since the election, which Mugabe is widely believed to have lost.

With the presidential election result still not announced, local private newspapers have been running adverts placed by human rights and faith-based groups showing images of the victims of political violence. The photographs show cracked heads, burnt buttocks, burnt feet and swollen mouths.

Mugabe’s supporters are accused of orchestrating a countrywide crackdown against the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC.

MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa alleges that 10 supporters have so far been killed by ZANU-PF activists, but Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa has accused the MDC of peddling falsehoods. The MDC’s claims however have been documented by groups including Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, the Zimbabwe Peace Project and Amnesty International, among others.

Early this month, the Christian Alliance, an ecumenical grouping of local churches, demanded that “the state media, war veterans and other militias stop fanning the flames of conflict”, after state media showed images of pro-Mugabe war veterans threatening white commercial farmers with violence if they refused to vacate their farms.

The remnants of the 1970s war of liberation have been prominent among the forces propping up Mugabe, and have been accused of unleashing a reign of terror across the country soon after the March 29 elections.

Many observers say post-election violence has displaced civilians within Zimbabwe and prompted others to leave the country.

“It is not surprising that many people do not see any reason why they should stay here when there are continuing fears of an outbreak of wide scale violence,” a teacher who resigned last year told IWPR. “The people of Zimbabwe are being pushed to the edge.”

Last month, MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti warned that the international community would only be impelled to take action on the Zimbabwe crisis after bodies began filling the streets.

It appears these fears are shared by many Zimbabweans.

The Southern African Migration Project has reported an upsurge in the number of people seeking to cross into South Africa, impelled by the uncertainty created by the post-election situation.

“No one wants to stay here any more,” said a young woman who had just obtained a travel visa to South Africa for herself and her two-month-old baby. “I am not coming back.”

Despite the numbers of people arriving in his country, South African president Thabo Mbeki shocked the international community by claiming there was no crisis in Zimbabwe when he met Mugabe recently.

In the past, organisations like the International Organisation for Migration have attempted to discourage the young, in particular, from leaving Zimbabwe. But for people of all generations, such pleas appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

Yamikani Mwando is the pseudonym of a journalist in Zimbabwe.

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