Five years ago, in March of 2008, Zimbabwe seemed on the precipice of transformational change. After the most democratic elections in the country's history, it was widely assumed that dictatorial leader Robert Mugabe had lost to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, with mutliple international media outlets going as far as to report that Mugabe was figuring out how to transfer power. Instead,in a rapid about face, Mugabe's Zanu PF party once again rigged the polls, ensuring that Tsvangirai's Movement for a Democratic Change (MDC) party came in just under the required 50 percent, which would have prevented a run-off. During the next six weeks, Mugabe and his cronies engaged in a campaign of terror, killing and torturing hundreds of opposition candidates, resulting in a sham of an election, and ensuring their victory.
Five years later, on July 31, Zimbabwe will hold its next presidential election. But as close as Zimbabwe was to change in 2008, it is that far from it now. Despite a seemingly historic power-sharing agreement brokered after the 2008 election between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, and the ushering in of a new constitution, the country is more splintered than ever. In the last five years, Zimbabwe has taken a step back.
Despite having nearly finished college in Zimbabwe, I now work as a handy-man in Johannesburg, unable to procure more gainly employment in my home country. Even after leaving, I remained an enthusiastic follower of Zimbabwe's politics. I wanted the situation to change, so badly. Having dropped out of college because I could no longer afford to continue my studies, I was frustrated with the rapid deterioration of the social, political and economic situation of my people.
I became tired of the blatant lies by Mugabe and his cronies, and I could not tolerate the incessant nationalistic propaganda omnipresent throughout the state controlled media, which focused on the continued promises for a better future: promises forever unfulfilled. I hoped for a better day with Tsvangirai 's MDC. But after rigged elections throughout the last decade, culminating with the debacle of 2008, I have given up hope in our elections. I began to see them as a waste of time and energy, and I stopped voting, vowing not to participate again until the process became fairer.
Fast forward to 2013, and Zimbabwe is just a day out from another crucial election. Seemingly, this marks a chance for every Zimbabwean to finally take control of our collective destiny. But nothing has changed, and the situation is depressingly familiar and discouraging. Our dictator in residence still has the state machinery at his disposal and the public media is still a mouthpiece for his party, relentlessly spewing the same tired nationalistic propaganda, blaming the West for all of our economic plight. The recently passed Constitution, which coincided with the power-sharing agreement, provided hope of potential democratic reforms before the election, but those hopes proved far-fetched.
For Zimbabweans, the upcoming elections are almost guaranteed to be another farce. Zanu PF still runs the Electoral Commission, and opposition parties have little access to public media platforms. The country's security apparatuses, which are supposed to protect all citizens, are being used to disrupt and make it difficult for opposition parties to organize rallies and reach out to their supporters. There are rumors that were Tsvangirai to win, the military would refuse to recognize his right to rule. Even though this election campaign has been relatively peaceful, opposition supporters are still terrified to wear party regalia on the streets, and talking politics in public remains a terrain that many fear to tread.
Additionally, a disturbing report by the Research and Advocacy Unit notes that Zimbabwe's voter register is inaccurate and biased towards old citizens. The register contains over a million people who are either dead or have left the country. It also claims that over two million young Zimbabweans below the age of 30 are unregistered, a huge and significant number, considering that young people tend to support opposition parties.
For these reasons, I struggle to feel hopeful as the day approaches. Like many other Zimbabweans, I am now tuned out of our political process. As much as I care deeply about my country, all I can do now is focus my energy towards improving my own material lot.
The election itself is a choice between two devils. Morgan Tsvangirai, our former potential savior, is now carrying significant baggage, ranging from inter-party corruption scandals to infidelity escapades have damaged his and the party's image. Mugabe, on the other hand, remains a merciless dictator. Even though Mugabe will certainly emerge victorious, a Tsvangirai victory would not change much. The only certainty is that the Zimbabwean people will lose.
Unsurprisingly, this election does not hold the same significance as past elections. Not because it is not important, but because I will not allow myself to be hopeful. Many hopes I had, many lies I swallowed. Now, it is not worth it. I have made a promise to myself that I will stop worrying about politics, and instead concentrate on making sure I have food on the table and clothes on my back.
There is no place like home, and I want things to change so much. But this election will show that we are further away from change than we were five years ago. I have often heard people ask why Zimbabweans do not engage in Arab Spring-like protests. It will not happen. Simply, it is not in our nature.
I find working away from friends and family very difficult and I'm sure millions of other displaced Zimbabweans feel the same. We are yearning to write a new and positive chapter in a story that has so far been filled with depressing and somber narratives. The keys to opening that new chapter are still out of our reach.