FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya. It's time now for our Africa Update. And the winner is... Zimbabwe's opposition claims a big lead in votes but the final results from Saturday's key parliamentary elections are still trickling in. Many are still concerned about voter intimidation and fraud. For more, we've got Imani Countess. She is senior director of public affairs for TransAfrica Forum and has been in Zimbabwe talking with voters and observing the election process. Welcome, Imani.

Ms. IMANI COUNTESS (TransAfrica Forum): Thank you for having me, Farai.

CHIDEYA: So you arrived in Zimbabwe in the days leading up to the election. What were people saying before they cast their votes and what are they saying now?

Ms. COUNTESS: People were excited. Some people characterized election day as a second independence day. People were looking forward to having an opportunity to cast their votes. Many of the people, in fact most of the people that we talked to, were quite frankly, fed up with the Mugabe government and were looking forward to an opportunity to help it move along.

CHIDEYA: Do they feel they got that opportunity, a fair election?

Ms. COUNTESS: Everyone that I've talked to since election day is in a state of significant anxiety. Everyone that I've talked to feels that the opposition, the leading opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, won and won by a significant margin. And the MDC, as you know, came out fairly early on declaring victory. They were able to do that, Farai, because of a change, a pretty significant change in the election rules that were negotiated by SADC, the Southern African Development Community, which allowed for the counting at the level of the polling station, the count of votes in that polling station, and the immediate public display of those votes.

So outside of every polling station you can go and see the results. So for example, on Sunday, after the elections, I visited a polling station in the Mount Pleasant district, Ward 7 in the Mount Pleasant district of Harare and was able to see posted on a tree the results of the election in that ward, so based upon that public data, the MDC claimed victory early on. The voting rules, however, require the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, ZEC, to actually verify votes. And they are the only entity that has authority, the mandate to actually declare winners and losers.

The ZEC since early Monday morning has been releasing the results of the election in dribs and drabs. It is the most anxiety-producing process I've ever been a part of or witnessed. So you know, in the U.S., I guess - I guess one would use the equivalent of a congressional district. Here in Zimbabwe it's the constituency level. There are over 200 constituencies. At last count, you know, maybe half of the constituencies had been announced and the presidential elections had not yet been formally called.

CHIDEYA: So people are on pins and needles and you remain in Zimbabwe. But when election day came around you went out with a friend to vote.

Ms. COUNTESS: Absolutely. I went out. My friend and I, we were at the polls at 7 a.m. It was a beautiful day. There was a very long queue. It was orderly, peaceful, people were excited, laughing and joking. The poll opened a little late. It was supposed to open exactly at 7. It probably opened around 7:30. She was able to cast her vote by about 9:20, so we were in that line for a couple of hours. And people were in general exuberant about the opportunity and the possibility of change.

There were a number of younger voters, first-time voters in the line. And there were a number of people like my friend who grew up supporting Zanu PF as the party of liberation, the party that brought independence to the country. But over the last five years, because of a steep decline in the economy, as well as a growing awareness of corruption, quite frankly, within the government, has become disillusioned. And so when she cast her vote, she said up until the time she went into the booth she wasn't quite sure which of the opposition candidates she was going to vote for. She told me in the end she voted for MDC with Morgan Shangari.

CHIDEYA: Last time I was in Zimbabwe was a little over a year ago. What is it like on the very basic level at this point as you look around the country in terms of being able to access transportation, food, you know, necessities?

Ms. COUNTESS: Farai, I was here a little over a year ago as well and I didn't think it could get much worse, but it certainly has. The shops are still short of basic commodities. And even if the shops have the commodities, people quite frankly cannot afford them. They can't afford the products in the stores. Many of the products that are not available in stores are available on the black market, where the prices, of course, are even higher.

It is astonishing to me how people do it on a day to day basis. Let me just give you an example. I spoke with one woman today whose monthly salary is 200 million Zimbabwe dollars. Farai, one kg of beef costs $150 million. Her rent is 150 million Zim dollars a month. To ride a combi - you know, the local transportation vehicles - can cost up to $110 million a day. So if you are only making $200 million a month, you cannot survive.

The woman I mentioned earlier who makes 200 million a month, she will take her money and go and buy bread. Then she'll sell bread on the streets as a part of the black market. She has been able to pull some money together to raise chickens, and then she will sell the chickens when they come to maturity. People are doing all kinds of things. Just spending one day with my friend, I saw her visit some of her friends and they bartered. They exchanged fruit for greens, greens for fish. People are just doing whatever they can. They are using their extended family networks, and that's what people are doing on a daily basis.

And an incredible number of people have left the country. So those people that have access to outside remittances are able to benefit from those remittances. But you can go on the Internet and buy petrol for people in Zimbabwe. You can buy groceries for people in Zimbabwe that are then trucked from South Africa to any part of Zimbabwe. So that's one way that people are able to hold themselves and their children together.

CHIDEYA: Well, Imani, we certainly are glad that you were able to give us a report from the ground, and thank you so much.

Ms. COUNTESS: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Imani Countess is senior director of public affairs for the TransAfrica Forum. She's been observing the elections in Zimbabwe and spoke with us from the capital, Harare.

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