One voter’s sad memoirs
By fstimes On 3 Aug, 2013 At 09:42 AM | Categorized As Columns | With 0 Comments

HAVING observed two presidential elections in the United States and one in Malawi and voted in three countries, I reckon I am an old pro in this business.

I was in the thick of it when Richard Nixon tried to ride out the Watergate scandal in the 1972 presidential election.

I was mightily relieved when, in 1974, he was forced to give up the presidency — over the Watergate scandal.

The second involved Bill Clinton, with one or two women saying nasty things about him.

But he still won… that’s America, for you.

But my very first experience of voting was in 1962 in a country called Southern Rhodesia, then a self-governing British colony.

The white supremacists who ruled the country then had a qualitative vote — your income had to be so much for you to qualify as a voter.

I was a journalist at African Newspapers, who published a number of African newspapers — of course — which included the exciting African Daily News on which I cut my journalistic teeth.

The white supremacists were holding a referendum on some vague matter.

They were asking us to vote YES or NO to their proposals.

Like all intelligent African people confronted by white supremacists, we examined their proposal thoroughly and decided on a thumping NO.

But the white supremacists, who outnumbered us on the voters’ roll, knew they had won.

For most of us, being voters in a country riddled with the colour bar was still a milestone of sorts.

My next vote was in Zambia, previously known as Northern Rhodesia.

I had been there since 1963, but managed to become a citizen only in 1971, when I could vote.

Before I cast my vote in an election, I was asked, to my face, by President Kenneth Kaunda: “Are you a spy for (Ian) Smith?”

I was working for The Sunday Times of Zambia, which the government owned.

I wrote a weekly column, rather controversial and very political — hence the question from the president.

I denied being a spy for Smith or anybody else, for that matter.

But during my first experience as a voter, I was stunned to discover I could not forget the question I had been asked by the president.

His party was the ruling party, UNIP.

I think I voted for that party, having imagined being asked, as I looked at the ballot paper: “Are you a spy for Smith?”

My enthusiasm for the ballot box waned as the years passed.

This was largely because UNIP was guaranteed victory in any election.

I have no concrete evidence to this day that the party rigged the elections.

It was not until 1991, 11 years after I had left to return to Zimbabwe, that Kaunda’s party suffered a thumping defeat in the polls.

By then I had become a voter in Zimbabwe.

But when I was asked, by none other than President Robert Mugabe: “What did you do to Kaunda?”

I had a sensation of de javu.

Here we go again, I thought, terrified.

Kaunda had been on a visit to Zimbabwe and had said “things” to Mugabe.

I tried to clear myself, but it didn’t work.

Mostly, it haunted me that I had been the subject of a conversation between these two powerful men.

Inevitably, every time I went into a polling booth in an election in Zimbabwe, the question was hurled at me — by someone or something: “What did you do to Kaunda?”

I am happy to say that this nightmare ended in 2001, after three Daily News colleagues and I, were locked up at Harare central police station over a story we had published.

In 2000, there had been elections featuring a feisty opposition party, the nine-month-old Movement for Democratic Change, which won 57 seats previously held by Zanu PF.

Zanu PF had publicly blamed the loss to the MDC on the Daily News.

The rest is history . . . sort of.

The lesson for all big-headed politicians is never to take anything in politics for granted.

The people told Zanu PF a few home truths — don’t you ever take us for granted again. But it’s possible the party didn’t listen carefully.

 

● Bill Saidi is a writer based in Harare.

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