Zimbabwean refugee journalist’s take on Zim election eve

By MATT MEDVED

On the eve of the Zimbabwean general election, Frank Gundz is restless.

Pacing the floor of a near empty newsroom in Cape Town, South Africa, the 26-year-old Zimbabwean ex-patriate gulps from a bottle of Windhoek beer. His eyes dart over yet another headline about President Robert Mugabe, accompanied by a picture of him laughing with his wife Grace. He sighs and takes another swig.

“My wish for tomorrow is for Mugabe to go,” Gundz says. “If he goes then certainly we can map out our own future as a nation. He has put everyone in prison, he has hijacked my nation. Zimbabweans are living in a jail cell of their own every single day.”

Mugabe is attempting to win his sixth term as President since ascending to the nation’s helm in 1980.

But Zimbabwe currently has the world’s highest inflation rate of over 100,000% and a meager one-in-five adult employment rate.

Additionally, Mugabe faces two opponents this time around. Long-time opponent Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is also in contention with newcomer Simba Makoni, an ex-finance minister in Mugabe’s Zanu-PF now running as an independent.

Tsvangirai has claimed to have won 67% of the vote 24 hours after the polls closed, a victory claim that a Zanu-PF spokesman denied and likened to a “coup de’tat.” But Gundz is skeptical even about the intentions of Mugabe’s challengers.

“The MDC is also corrupt,” Gundz says. “Everyone is excited about change but they overlook the fact that the MDC could easily become what Zanu-PF is, like a little pup becoming a lion if we’re not careful. If Makoni is true, then perhaps he can be a source of change. But I don’t believe in him. I don’t believe in any politicians unless they deliver.”

The same questions of ghost voters and ballot stuffing that have plagued past elections still surround the current one. The delays in releasing the election results have done nothing to dispel Zimbabweans’ fears of another stolen vote. The MDC has previously charged that the vote will be rigged, which Mugabe’s government has denied.

Gundz did not vote in the 2003 polls because he believed the election to be a joke. When asked about the legitimacy of this year’s vote, he rolls his eyes and arches his eyebrows.

“What do you think? We have to face the fact that Mugabe is going to win tomorrow no matter what,” Gundz says. “But tomorrow I think is the beginning of a new era where we have to face reality. We are going to be like Ground Zero from tomorrow onwards if he wins. Every man should stand up. Politicians can’t free the world, but they can put the world in prison.”

Gundz knows from experience. He was detained a year ago by Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) for documenting the forced removal of slum dwellers as part of Mugabe’s Operation Murambatsvina (Operation Drive Out Trash). He was tortured for more than 24 hours before he was finally released, conditional on his continued cooperation with the CIO.

But Gundz realized he could not follow through on his extorted promise. He decided to leave behind his girlfriend, his nearly completed university studies and his family for a shot at freedom.

“How could I spy on my own people who are dying of hunger?” Gundz asks. “We have kids with dreams in Zimbabwe. Look at all those dreams that went down the drain. The youth of Zimbabwe are frustrated, they are disillusioned.”

Gundz crossed the border into South Africa in June, posing as a bus conductor.

“It was a choice that I made,” Gundz says. “I’m young, I do not have a family and journalism is more than a job for me. It is a calling. Sooner or later someone may get me down and say ‘we must kill this one man.’ But I am not afraid.”

Gundz managed to make it to Cape Town, where he spent weeks sleeping on the streets while trying to get his working papers from Home Affairs. Since obtaining them, he has been covering the plights of fellow refugees for the Cape Argus newspaper there.

“I feel like I’ve let a lot of the guys on the frontline down,” Gundz says, idly tearing the newspaper across Mugabe’s bespectacled features. “I’m here writing my refugee stories and I feel like I should be there. I feel I have a burden on my shoulder. But I am representing the guys suffering here in South Africa. I write about the Zimbabweans and the Congolese, the black South Africans who are refugees in their own country. If I don’t help speak for the voiceless than who will?”

Gundz says he still believes he will one day see Zimbabwe again, although the current administration would “arrest him on the spot.” He finishes ripping Mugabe’s face out of the paper and crumples it in his hands.

“This thing is eating up at me,” he says. “The probability is high that he’ll be President again and we’ll have the slow genocide of millions of Zimbabweans for the next five years with people living in airtight cages of poverty and dying of HIV/AIDS.”

Gundz has finished his beer, which he sets down on a desk with a clang. He closes his dark eyes and leans back in a chair. When he reopens them, bloodshot and blinking, he appears wearier than before.

“I’ve grown to believe in civil disobedience and constructive violence,” he says. “My hope is that there will be high drama if Mugabe is ‘reelected’. There are going to be a lot of hungry people.”

“And the hungry man,” Gundz finishes, tossing the shredded picture of Mugabe into a nearby trash basket. “Is an angry man.”

Note: The subject’s name has been changed for his protection.

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~ by Matt Medved on March 29, 2008.

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