In the neonatal ward of Parirenyatwa Hospital two stick-thin premature babies lie in plastic tanks as their nurse lists all the things she does not have.
No baby-sized cannulas for their tiny veins, no surfactant drugs to develop their lungs, no x-ray machine and often no water. “We have a much higher death rate than we should have,” she said.
In another room one nurse looks after 12 babies whose mothers have died or are ill. She shows how she cuts up bed protector sheets to use as nappies, stuck with tape. The matron complains they have no trollies or stretchers. A woman in labour is screaming as there is no gas and air.
In the main hospital a medical officer bemoans the shortages of basics such as surgical gloves and IVs. Everything except bandages is imported and Zimbabwe has no cash.
Such scenes are not uncommon in Africa. But Parirenyatwa was once the pinnacle of healthcare in southern Africa and is still the best in Zimbabwe.
On a verge by the hospital car park sit the family of a young man who suffered a head injury in a car accident. He is in appalling pain, they say, but had been given no painkillers, just a bandage.
“Look at this country,” said his mother-in-law. “I put all my five children through university and now none of them can get jobs, they are just sitting at home or selling tomatoes and onions on the street.
“Are we mad that we would vote back people who only take us backwards? We can’t have another five years of this.”
Like the hospital with its peeling walls and dry taps, the pot-holed roads, derelict farms and shuttered industries, the banks with no cash, everything is in a state of collapse. This is the reality of decades of neglect as the elite of the ruling Zanu-PF party under Robert Mugabe focused on entrenching their power and enriching themselves.
Which is why the result of last Monday’s elections — apparently voting back in those responsible for the dereliction — seemed so unlikely. The Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) declared a landslide for Zanu-PF in parliament and a narrow 50.8% victory for Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s former right-hand man, in the presidential vote.
Mnangagwa has promised Zimbabwe is “open for business”. Perhaps the main objective of the elections was to gain legitimacy and then access to international financial institutions and investment. This is something the international community — particularly Britain, the former colonial power — has been very enthusiastic about.
That leaves a dilemma for the international community. It desperately wants to bring Zimbabwe back into the fold, not least to help babies such as those in Parirenyatwa Hospital, but it cannot be seen to condone a stolen election and the violence that followed.
“Look at this,” said one senior Commonwealth observer, watching riot police wave their batons at journalists. “There is no way I’ll be recommending Zimbabwe is allowed to rejoin.”
Voting in the first elections without Mugabe on the ballot was indeed peaceful, as was the campaign. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Nelson Chamisa was able to hold rallies across the country, unlike previous elections.
However, a report by EU observers said it had not been “a level playing field”, given that the opposition had no access to state media. A new voters’ roll was suddenly produced three days before voting to which even the EU did not get access, despite having funded it.
Observers and candidates across the country on voting day revealed numerous inconsistencies. Sylvester Nguni, a former Zanu-PF minister running as an independent, found only four people supposedly voted for him in the polling station for his family village.
“Just my family, cousins and friends are more than 100,” he laughed
A Commonwealth observer witnessed a fracas at a polling station in the village of Mabale in Matabeleland North when 30 voters turned up who had never been seen in the district. They were later spotted in the Zanu-PF office. When the MDC council candidate complained to the police he was arrested.
“If this can happen in a small village where everyone knows everyone, imagine what must be happening in big districts,” the observer said.
Many rural polling stations were manned by local chiefs who had been given new vehicles by the ruling party. A couple of observers found themselves staying at the same hotel in Midlands province where a post-election meeting was under way of chiefs boasting about how well they had delivered.
The ZEC delayed announcing the presidential results for three days. It was late Thursday night, while most people were sleeping, when it started the laborious process, which went on into the early hours of Friday.
One obvious anomaly was that the results showed far more people casting votes for the president than for parliamentary seats — 4.77m compared with fewer than 4m — in what had been simultaneous ballots.
Mnangagwa described his victory as “a new beginning”. But the violence following the election seemed a throwback to the past. A small crowd of MDC supporters had gone to the streets of central Harare around lunchtime on Wednesday to protest. Police and then soldiers arrived.
By the time they left, three people were dead and an unknown number were injured. Four died in hospital, bringing the death toll to seven.
Nor did the violence stop on the streets. Precious, 32, a mother of four and an MDC member, lay next day on the floor of her mother’s shack with vivid bruises and weals on her buttocks, thighs and arms where she had been beaten.
She said she had gone to join the protest, but had hidden in a building when the soldiers came. When the shooting stopped she emerged, only to be forced into a vehicle and taken to an army barracks with a group of people, including her local female MDC MP.
“They blindfolded us, took our phones and money, threw us onto our stomachs, then started beating us with sticks and leather whips or belts,” she said.
“They kept asking us, ‘Why did you start this demonstration?’ Then they plugged something onto my feet and gave electric shocks. I was so scared, I was shaking.”
Political violence and questionable elections are nothing new in Zimbabwe. But this time the despondency is deeper, particularly in the opposition stronghold of Harare, hopes having been raised by the fall of Mugabe and the presence of international observers.
Beginning to despair
“I feel we, the people, were used by the military,” said Patrick Mugadza, a Pentecostal priest who was arrested several times in the Mugabe years.
“It’s still the same old cabal. We thought this time would be different, but now we feel as if elections will never reflect the will of the people.”
Among those beginning to despair are Ben Freeth and Dave Connolly, two of the estimated 5,000 white farmers whose lands have been taken over since 2000. Both men have stayed in the country, hoping things would change and they could help restore the land.
“I’ve carried myself on adrenaline all these years, but after this I feel very low,” said Freeth. “I’ve seen so much destruction, so many people losing their homes, their health, even suicides. It’s gone on for an awful long time.”
“I tried not to put my hope in this election,” said Connolly. “Now we feel it’s going to be another five years of going nowhere when we’ve already had two decades of that.”