Tonde Mponda*, who trades in foreign currency on the parallel market in Harare, the Zimbabwean capital, and is a staunch supporter of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), thought quickly when he found his battered unregistered car had been clamped by the municipal police because it did not have a parking disc.
"Which sell-out has done this?" Mponda snarled. Members of the opposition are commonly called "sell-outs" by ZANU-PF, the previous ruling party, a derogatory term meaning that the opposition are prepared to "sell" the country to its former colonial power, Great Britain.
"I need to go and campaign for [President Robert] Mugabe in the countryside," he bellowed to ensure that the municipal police officers busy clamping other vehicles nearby could hear him. "Someone will have to pay for this."
It worked. The officers rushed to his car, removed the clamp and apologised profusely for their "oversight". Mponda smiled and winked at other traders hanging around; they responded with winks and knowing smiles.
In the face of increasing political violence at the hands of ZANU-PF militia, most Zimbabweans have suddenly become enthusiastic Mugabe supporters.
|A ZANU-PF booklet or bandana is kept handy in almost every car and handbag so that it can be flourished whenever it becomes necessary to convince any quizzers that the quizee's loyalty lies with "the old man" [Mugabe]|
One of the few tourists who occasionally stray into Zimbabwe remarked this week: "If it had not been for the saturation coverage that the Zimbabwean elections are receiving ... I would not have been convinced that there was an election pitting Mugabe, who lost in the first round, against [MDC leader Morgan] Tsvangirai, who was the victor."
The reasons for his confusion are understandable, because everyone appears to be a ZANU-PF supporter.
All in the cause of the "revolution"
Over the last two weeks, the ZANU-PF militia has unleashed violence on the urban population, where opposition support has traditionally been strong. The physical intimidation is backed up by attempts to indoctrinate them, and ZANU-PF has set up "reorientation bases" in schools or clinics in every neighbourhood.
Residents are ordered to attend all-night vigils in these bases every night, when they are forced to praise Mugabe and denigrate Tsvangirai. There have been several allegations that the bases are also used to torture and rape supporters of the opposition.
Information minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu dismissed these allegations, saying: "These are not torture bases, but public workshops at which seasoned politicians explain the history of the country to the people."
Demand up for ZANU-PF campaign material
Many residents make a point of attending to keep up the appearance of being a ZANU-PF revolutionary while making good use of an opportunity to get hold of the party T-shirts, booklets, bandanas and posters generously doled out by Mugabe's campaign team.
The demand for ZANU-PF party merchandise is high on the must-have lists of urban residents. IRIN saw several people being injured in the city centre in a rush for ZANU-PF campaign freebies - anybody would have thought the melee was caused by the arrival of scarce maize-meal, the staple food, or bread.
A ZANU-PF booklet or bandana is kept handy in almost every car and handbag so that it can be flourished whenever it becomes necessary to convince any quizzers that the quizee's loyalty lies with "the old man" [Mugabe].
It also helps to know a few choice slogans, the most popular being: "WW - Win or War" [in support of the revolution]. A ZANU-PF slogan, said with gusto while thrusting a fist into the air, can help negotiate your way out of a potentially sticky situation at a road block.
Almost all private cars and public transport buses are adorned with posters of Mugabe as a sure way of avoiding attacks by the militia. A public transport driver told IRIN that he had found his bus plastered with Mugabe's campaign posters.
"Initially, I wanted to remove them but we realised that those who removed the posters or did not have them were having problems with militia and the army."
Some people even pose as ZANU-PF activists. An editor of a local private newspaper told IRIN that he was surprised to come across a young man pasting a Mugabe campaign poster on his vehicle.
"The young man said he knew me and that I should not worry about the poster as it would protect me. He then confided that he was an MDC supporter but had decided to blend in to avoid unnecessary attacks from ZANU-PF militia."
Make money out of it
While many ordinary residents have learnt to work the system to survive, others have learnt to abuse it. Young men and women clad in Mugabe T-shirts have set up roadblocks in townships and demanded money from passersby.
Petrol vendors and foreign currency traders in the parallel market, who until recently were routinely arrested, now often find that if they are wearing ZANU-PF T-shirts, the representatives of the law turn a welcome blind eye in their direction.
Wearing an MDC shirt has become a risky business and the party's paraphernalia has virtually gone out of circulation, yet the opposition party says that sporting ZANU-PF merchandise does not mean a loss of supporters.
"Our members have realised that they are dealing with a brutal dictatorship and have to wear his campaign material for self-preservation," said MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa. "The T-shirts make very good pyjamas."
* Not his real name
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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