TREVOR Hove works at a filling station in Harare. On this hot September afternoon, his workstation has luckily just received a fresh delivery of fuel.
BY TAPIWA ZIVIRA
He is busy, taking a second or two to wipe sweat off his brow, as he serves the growing queue of motorists.
The troubled Southern African country is facing renewed shortages of fuel among other things caused by foreign currency shortages.
At 21, Hove is lucky to be among the less than 15% formally employed Zimbabweans and, as he serves his customers, he occasionally ventures into conversation with the friendly ones.
The conversations revolve around the country’s political and economic crises that have seen bond notes significantly lose value against the now scarce United States dollars.
The symptoms of the crisis are becoming more visible, as a panic buying spree last week was characterised by price hikes for grocery items like cooking oil and sugar, while there is speculation there will be acute food shortages and disruption of electronic financial transactions.
The government has tried downplay the anxiety among Zimbabweans, but having gone through a worse off crisis a decade ago, Zimbabweans last weekend filled trolleys in supermarkets, while some began to stock up on fuel in obvious fear of the reincarnation of the 2007 to 2008 ghost, when shop shelves went bare.
Hove says the worsening crisis has led to the amplification of the conversations around the country’s future.
“When I am transacting, the usual sentiments are that things are tough and what can be done about it,” he said.
Although subtle and usually in hushed tones, the conversations point to next year’s elections, when a 94-year-old President Robert Mugabe, who has rundown the once vibrant economy, runs another electoral race amid little hope of economic relief for Zimbabweans, who have suffered nearly two decades of economic turmoil.
Literally a police State, where Mugabe has his eyes everywhere through the feared Central Intelligence Organisation, political conversations are often held in muted tones, with many avoiding directly pointing at the President’s failure and his increasing frailty.
Many have been arrested for “denigrating” or “undermining” Mugabe – although most of the cases have not resulted in convictions — which is enough to silence even the bravest of people.
During the last elections in 2013, which Mugabe won contentiously, Hove said he did not vote, but this time he says he will do it for the first time.
“I was 17 in 2013 and now I think it is my chance to put my mark on my destiny,” he said.
“So whenever I speak with people, and I am confident enough, I put in a word that they must register to vote because that is what can change our current situation.”
Away from Hove’s workstation, the story appears the same.
Zimbabweans are desperate for change, but seem to be pondering how it will happen given Mugabe’s stronghold on power and his proclivity of playing it rough.
Very few ordinary citizens are brave enough to speak out loud against government, as they prefer euphemistic conversations in public transport and supermarket queues.
There is confusion over next year’s elections due to the increasing lack of confidence in the credibility of the electoral system and fears of manipulation of results in Mugabe’s favour.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) is responsible for the preparation and conduct of elections.
The introduction of the biometric voter registration (BVR) started off on a chaotic note, with the underfunded Zec deploying inadequate machines to kick-start the new registration process.
A potential first time voter, who identified herself as Cleopatra (23), said she spent five hours in a queue to register.
“I was determined, but I think of all those vendors and self-employed people, who cannot afford to spend such a long time in a queue,” she said, as she walked out of the only registration centre in Harare, located in Mbare.
Zec chairperson, Rita Makarau, who also presided over the 2013 elections, has promised the commission will deploy more machines and open more centres to speed up the registration process, which should end in January 2018.
Zec has only received 400 BVR kits out of the 3 000 ordered from their supplier, Laxton Group of China and the remaining 2 600 kits will only be delivered after the commission pays the purchase price in full.
Makarau told the media last week that she is confident the commission will have all the kits at the beginning of October, which begins tomorrow.
Apart from the fears of electoral manipulation, there is a fear that if Mugabe loses, he may not give up power, given that in 2008, Zanu PF was accused of unleashing violence on opposition supporters in the second round of voting after Mugabe had lost to MDC-T leader, Morgan Tsvangirai in the first round.
The terror campaign resulted in Tsvangirai withdrawing from the race and Mugabe literally contested alone and went on to retain powers, although he was eventually dragged into a power sharing agreement after Sadc intervention.
A teacher at a school in Hatfield in Harare is sceptical that elections could herald change.
“First of all, I do not see Mugabe giving the due independence to the electoral process in case he will be on the losing side and he wants to manipulate it to ensure he wins.
“Secondly, even if he loses, I don’t see him accepting defeat having done that in 2008,” the teacher, who declined to be identified said.
“I will vote next year and I will make sure my two children also vote for the first time, but I think our problems are too deep to be ended by just an election.”
With Mugabe apparently in the sunset of his political career, there has been internal jostling and infighting among those intending to succeed him with two distinct factions emerging in Zanu PF.
One is reportedly loyal to Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the other is backing Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi, as the successor.
But Mugabe has not shown any intention to quit yet, providing more room for uncertainty.
“As long as Mugabe himself does not indicate his intention to quit, we will never know how all this will end because, as it stands, everything is on hold because of him,” a vendor in central Harare said.
“As long as Mugabe is in power and no matter how many times he falls, sleeps or stumbles in public, as long as he is alive, we can only wait.”
Back in the streets of Harare, the signs of desperation and frustration are visible.
Vendors — many of whom lost their jobs or just graduated — have taken over the city centre’s pavements, streets and shopfronts selling anything, from second-hand clothes to fruit.