Monday, 15 December 2008
Oh Rhodesia... Oh Zimbabwe
A former colleage of mine in one of the `Shire Forces` told me of his time in Rhodesia during the independence elections when, in 1979, British Bobbies were sent out there as a sign of reassurance, decency and fairness for the people undergoing such a massive change. I now wince at the irony. My friend, Dave, spoke of the wonderful people he met, especially the `bush` people, who walked for days to cast their vote. People who couldn't read or write but who could play hand made musical instruments with such skill. One day at the polling station a simple man from the bush came in to exercise his democratic right, but didn't quite get what he had to do. Dave told the interpreter to explain how he must place his mark on the ballot and then he can cast his vote. This was quickly translated into Shona and so, duly instructed in his simple task, the bush man entered the booth. After a minute he was out, standing there very proudly with his A4 size ballot paper, with his little pencilled cross by the chosen candidates name, which also had an image of a Zebra by it. Each political party had their own animal symbol to assist the illiterate in knowing who they were voting for. Dave told the translator to instruct him to cast his vote which he did. The bushman promtly threw the paper back into the booth! Dave chuckled and told the interpreter to get him to pick it up and post it into the ballot box. The bushman picked up his ballot paper, walked to the metal ballot box and tried to push it into the slot, but being A4 size it wasn't going to fit and this simple man just couldn't work out how to do it, after all, in his world he had no need of paper. After more translations and confused expressions, Dave decided to breach one of the rules and took the paper from the bushman, neatly folded it twice and then slipped it through the slot. The bushman's face was a picture of amazement and mirth at the magic trick that Dave had performed. He shook him vigorously by the hand, telling him he was a `good magician`. The polling stations also had an ultra violet lamp and a solution that glowed under u/v. After the u/v screening check was performed they could vote and then before leaving they had to dip their hands into the solution, which would remain on their hands long enough to see out the election process and to ensure they only voted the once. Dave told me that several multiple voters were detected by this method and it was necessary to have a tribal `medicine man` or shaman present because when the `magic` of u/v showed up the marks on their fingers the simple folk thought they were cursed with bad magic. The shaman was clearly briefed on this and `in the know`. He would shake his beads at the poor `cursed` voter, flick a little special water over them and assure them that he had fixed them and they'd leave the polling station a little shocked, but ultimately relieved that the bad magic had been removed. When I look at the awful scenes today, of news footage bravely filmed and smuggled out of Zimbabwe, and that despotic maniac Mugabe and what he and his sort have done to that wonderful country, I think of the stories that Dave told me of his time amongst its people and how they had touched his heart, with their friendliness and joyful, open simplicity when he stood by his polling station in his British police uniform, in the stifling heat of the Rhodesian bush and tried to make sure it was a fair election. Thereafter, the world has stood by and watched those same people sink into the abyss that is now Zimbabwe. May the Gods that they pray to, help and protect them.