Separating Fact From Fiction In Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe's only television station, ZBC, provides the public with information about election results every hour. Unfortunately for the Zimbabwean public, the presidential result, which is the most anticipated announcement, has still not been declared.

Meanwhile, local journalists await possible news conferences in the lobby of Harare's luxurious Miekles Hotel.

"It is too quiet — it does not seem like the MDC [opposition Movement for Democratic Change] even won anything," says Mudiwa, a local cameraman.

"No one cares about the parliament — we just want the sekuru [old man] to step down," Mudiwa says of President Robert Mugabe.

Most local journalists like Mudiwa capture photographs, video footage or written statements in Zimbabwe to sell them for a lucrative sum to eager foreign news services.

For now, learning the truth seems to be the hope of every Zimbabwean. But rumors travel through the air and fabrications are printed in the national newspaper. As a result, many people here have to create their own version of what is actually going on.

A spokesperson for MDC — the possible winner of a parliamentary majority and the coveted presidential race — released a statement on ZBC radio Thursday morning, saying that "the western journalists are one-sided, that is not fair journalism &3151; there is always two sides to a story."

It would appear that MDC members are doing their best to present a "united" Zimbabwe — a country that is going through an obvious transition. And, in their eyes, the outside interference of the West can only impede the process by promoting tension and inciting a possible conflict.

Meanwhile, on Thursday evening, numerous hotels in Harare were raided.

Barry Bearak, a New York Times correspondent, was detained by police. Bearak was found at the York Lodge, located in Newlands, a suburb 20 minutes outside of Harare, the capital. Reports of his arrest were confirmed by New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller in an article in the paper on Friday morning.

"Sometime you are lucky — other times you are not," says a cameraman from Al-Jazeera, the television network headquartered in Qatar. "We are all looking for information here and it's not easy."

Al-Jazeera is one of the few broadcasters allowed into the country and was granted access, after it met stiff application requirements. One of the requirements was a $10,000 accreditation fee.

The network has the support of Zimbabwe's leading local media entrepreneur, Supa Mandiwanzira, founder and owner of Might Movies, a fully functional studio space that sends daily footage to foreign news agencies around the world.

"Supa is doing Super," cameraman Mudiwa says. "He is one man that is enjoying all of this."

At the end of each hourly broadcast, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission says that the logistical difficulties of compiling all the results is a large task, and then thanks the public for its patience as this process continues forward.

But on Friday afternoon, a Politburo (aligned with the ruling ZANU–PF political party) meeting was held, where a declaration of a runoff was announced.

"He [Mugabe] should be allowed to leave in a nice way," says an election observer from West Africa. "He is the father of the country."

That said, unofficial results leaning in favor of the MDC presidential contender, Morgan Tsvangirai, suggest that Mugabe is no longer the people's choice.

Mudiwa echoes that feeling: "It is not the time to be too generous."