The sense of dread comes in waves.
How to watch? Where to find the words when the killing starts again in Zimbabwe?
This is an outline in story, a sketch, of the elections (result still contested) held recently in Zimbabwe, and the intention is to try to explain to those who have no connection with the country a little of what is at stake. It is not intended in any way to make light of the efforts and agonies of those involved.
The story is set in a boxing ring, and the prize is leadership of a land rich in elephants, pangolin, gold, diamonds, rivers, life-giving soil…and Zimbabweans.
Here are a few points to help understand the story that follows:
- Zimbabwe is the former British colony, Rhodesia.
- It became Zimbabwe in 1980, with Robert Mugabe as the country’s leader. He retained power until 2017.
- Under Mugabe, and his political party Zanu-PF, elections were associated increasingly with vote-rigging and violence.
- In 2017 a ‘soft’ coup by the Zimbabwean Army removed Mugabe and placed his long-serving political accomplice, Emmerson Mnangagwa (known as the Crocodile), in charge.
- Elections, widely-expected to confirm Emmerson Mnangagwa’s appointment as President, took place on 30 July 2018.
- For the first time in many years international observers were invited into Zimbabwe to witness these elections. An un-level playing field was noted, but the election day itself was peaceful. The violence came afterwards when soldiers, in front of the world’s media, fired live rounds into unarmed protesters on the streets of the capital, Harare. The protest followed the announcement that Zanu-PF had won a majority in parliament.
- After a further day of waiting an announcement was made in the dead of night – Emmerson Mnangagwa had won the presidential vote by a narrow margin. It is this result that is now before Zimbabwe’s courts.
- The two presidential hopefuls are Nelson Chamisa, the new, young leader of the opposition, the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) Alliance, and Emmerson Mnangagwa who represents Zanu-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front).
- It is a tense, dangerous time, with reports of killing and violence around the country. There is no trust anywhere.
Into the Jaws of the Crocodile
It is winter in Zimbabwe. The days are cool but the heat is rising – a new fight is about to start.
In the blue corner is Crocodile, whose face is on all the posters. He is built like a tank, and around his neck hangs a striped scarf in the colours of the country’s flag. The scarf looks strange not jolly.
In the red corner is a much younger man, slight and bouncy, eager to begin. He, Nelson Chamisa, is not well known.
At first there are no fans for the fight. The locals do not trust or like such contests. They know that in Zimbabwe there is often cheating, and it is the Crowd that gets hurt.
“What is the point? These fights are not fair,” they say.
“But you are wrong,” the Paper says. “This year Crocodile is in the ring and he has invited Guests from around the world to watch. They will see how fine our judgements are.”
“Uh-huh?” say Zimbabweans.
“Hmmm…” say Zimbabweans.
Then the whispers grow louder about the new champion who has stepped forward to take on Crocodile. He is young, and quick, and there are those who believe this might be Zimbabwe’s chance to show the World that it does not want Crocodile to win.
“Ah ha…” think Zimbabweans.
Slowly, slowly they start to come – not all of them, but many of them – enough to make a Crowd.
This pleases Crocodile for now he has a show to put on for the World. He muzzles his jaws and does not move.
The Crowd takes its place, the Guests arrive, the lights come on, and the fight begins.
It starts well for Crocodile. He has experience and his blows thud home – some direct into the red vest, many below the belt.
Red has not been in such a fight before and is both excited and distracted by the Crowd. Crocodile knocks the young man back…but Red keeps his feet. It is only now that the Crowd’s heart begins to beat.
Young Red can hear it drum and it makes him proud. He jumps and twirls, and unbalances Crocodile.
The Crowd cheers, and its roars grow louder. It cannot help itself – Red has style. The excitement grows…but not quite everywhere, and especially not at the back.
In the far rows there is less noise. Here the Crowd is older and Crocodile’s friends are with them, and have been with them for months. They knock on their doors, throw their shadows into homes, and pass around treats on the tips of their bayonets. This distant Crowd is quiet, especially those who still carry Crocodile’s scars. From where they sit it is not possible to see how Red can win.
But at the front it is different. Here the Crowd sees Red’s sweat and belief, and it can touch his hope. It hears his dreams of jobs, of food, of trains that fly like bullets…and it roars again for Red. It watches as the young fighter’s quick feet and eager mind knot rings around the dinosaur in the blue corner.
The Guests make their notes as Crocodile starts to slow, and the cheering gets louder.
At last the bell rings. Red waves at the Crowd, but Crocodile, who is not used to this kind of fight, does not.
Each fighter goes to his corner and waits. Red is fired with energy whilst Crocodile is heavy and tired. The Crowd watches as Crocodile unbinds his jaw and studies them all.
“Good fight,” say the Guests, pleased that everyone is alive.
Crocodile stares, and the Crowd grows quiet.
Around the ring dark shadows smother the judges’ tables. Numbers smudge and papers crunch, but the result does not come. The mood tightens.
“Where is this Referee?” the Guests ask.
“Where is this lady, and her team of judges chosen by Crocodile?” the Crowd asks.
Crocodile stays still, but at his back figures move in the dark.
The Referee comes forward. She carries half the news.
“Crocodile’s team is the best team.”
“No!” cry the Crowd. “We don’t believe you.”
Those at the front push against the ropes. They sway and chant. Crocodile narrows his eyes.
Then SNAP! Soldiers rush in and charge the crowd. Shots scream, bodies fall, the Guests flash out their warnings to the World…and the Soldiers vanish.
“Eeesh!” say Zimbabweans.
“That Crocodile!” say Zimbabweans.
“Keep your heads down man!” say Zimbabweans.
The pain swirls and spreads out. Crocodile stretches, and the wounded Crowd waits.
“See!” a Voice screams. “This is neither free nor fair.”
In the midnight dark, with six bodies dead on the floor, the Referee comes back. She whispers that Crocodile has won.
“Not true!” cries the Crowd.
“It’s a lie!” shouts a Voice, louder than the rest.
The Guests, their bags half-packed, listen. They are nervous and unsure.
“Oh,” says Crocodile, in his soft wool suit. “Please don’t worry. There is much confusion now. Let me look into it. I will find the troublemakers. They are not mine.”
“Thank you Crocodile,” say the Guests as they leave.
The Crowd moves away, the lights go out, and Crocodile rests beneath the surface.
He does find troublemakers in the days that follow, but they are not his Soldiers, the ones who kill. The troublemakers Crocodile finds are chosen with care from the Crowd. They are those who speak out, who tell of lies, and beatings, who speak of cheating, and who insist on justice.
Crocodile dangles one of them, the most troublesome Voice, from his jaws. Then he turns to grin at the World.
“Eeeesh!” whisper Zimbabweans, as they cover their eyes.
“Oh dear!” say the Guests, in their faraway lands. “Mr Crocodile Sir, please don’t.”
“Hmmm…” says Crocodile, as he twirls his scarf. “Hmmm…”
There is no sound from the Voice, caught on Crocodile’s teeth. He may struggle but he can say nothing, only watch as Crocodile swings heavily towards the courtroom.
It is through those doors that Red and his papers wait…and so, it is said, do Crocodile’s friends.
And that is where the story ends for now. The ultimate decision regarding the legitimacy of the recent elections now rests with Zimbabwe’s judges.
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2018