9 hours 4 Change
Updated: Aug 18, 2021
Dear Africana Woman,
Last Friday I was in a fast food store buying ice-cream. One of the few pleasures I do not deny myself. Usually said store is bustling with people but on that day there were only three customers at the counter. I couldn’t help but glance at the hands of my fellow shoppers. You see I was looking for the ink mark on their thumbs that would indicate that they had exercised their right to vote in the highly anticipated Zambian presidential elections, held the day before on 12th August, 2021. Alas to my disappointment both men did not have the mark. In retrospect they could have been truck drivers making a pit stop on the way to the border. Nonetheless, clearly the elections were top of mind for me.
I had driven to Kabwe to our family home on the eve of the elections in the evening. I had strategically made the decision to vote away from the capital city more than a year ago. History had shown that rising tension between the two biggest parties, Patriotic Front (PF) and United Party for National Development (UPND), would most likely explode in the major urban centres. This is why despite having finished my last meeting at 6pm, I was determined to get out of the city. It took 3 hours to arrive in Kabwe. Very tired from the day I jumped straight in bed knowing I would have to wake up in less than 6 hours if I was to get a decent spot in the line at the polling station. Fortunately, my friend Lau from Argentina volunteered to give me a wakeup call.
On 12th August, 2021 4:45am the call came in from Argentina. Actually, I missed the first one at 4:30am. But I was up. The rules of the polling station were that no one could wear party regalia. With 16 parties vying for the spot there was not many colours one could wear. I opted for grey from head to toe, keeping in mind that it is the cold season in Zambia so extra layers were in order. I jumped in the car and was on my way to the polling station. To be honest, I did not know where exactly the polling station was. Therefore, I had consulted a colleague who is much more familiar with the area ahead of time. In the cover of night, I did get lost, however, was guided in the right direction by fellow early risers.
Upon approaching the station, by my estimate the line was about 100 people deep. It was very orderly as it snaked round adjacent to the width of the building and then made its way along the road. In addition, to being socially distanced. I was relieved because in my mind this would not take more than 4 hours from the starting time. Sis was I wrong. The crowd was in jovial spirits as people cracked jokes when greeting one another. Ahead of me was a lady whom I later came to know as Bana Mpundu (mother of twins) and behind me were two young men in their early 20s also wearing grey hoodies. The station was pronounced open at 6am by the officer in charge and the crowd warmly received this pronouncement with a round of applause.
Forty minutes later, precisely 6:40am the line had not moved an inch at which point the warning signs for a long wait began to ring in my head. Surely what could be the hold up? I kept asking myself. Now the plan was to take headphones and listen to podcasts as I waited however the auxiliary cable had detached from the headpiece as I rushed to get out of the house. Even though the house was 5 minutes away, I feared leaving the line and losing mys spot as I did not know anyone. Hence, I stayed and thought this will be over soon. As dawn broke and lit the school grounds more people had joined the line behind me. By my estimate there could have been 200 people. As it were the polling station had 899 registered voters.
The wait was long. The progress slow. I admired two ladies who were ahead of me that were sharing a bench. By 8am I had reached the bend where the building began. Further to that was reaching the landmark of 5m from the voting room door at 9am. Five meters away was my opportunity to hire and fire leaders of this beautiful country Zambia. I must make mention that by now the lines were far from straight nor socially distanced. Instead people stood in clusters and were quite close to each other. They would take turns leaving the line to go sit on the side and relieve the aching backs and legs. Whilst others had arrived late and were simply finding someone they knew in front of the line and squeezing themselves in. Furthermore, there was a separate line of elderly voters 65 years and above who were given preference to enter in addition to the sick and pregnant women.
As we waited the only thing that could keep me entertained were the never-ending memes and status updates by friends and family across the country. At first, we laughed along. Like there was the young man who went to vote in his graduation gown. Or the young lady who had papad a dog as one would a baby in order to be given preferential treatment. This slowly turned into horror as we watched masses attack alleged perpetrators caught with falsified ballot boxes. In that moment, I couldn’t help but wish to get back home as quickly as possible. Some people know me as someone who will voice my opinion without hesitation. Yet I made a conscious decision to not let my temper rise as I stood in that que. I kept telling myself, “It pays to do the right thing.”
By 12pm, the sun was directly above us, slapping us with heat that felt unbearable coupled with no food or water and shaking knees. At this point, many had caught onto the people that were jumping the line and had no tolerance for said behaviour. One woman actually walked up to the front of the line, looking all fresh and dolled up and started chatting to her friend like she was meant to be there. Listen, the uproar had her running away hiding her face from the anger being hurled her way. Then there was the young man who came to shout his grievance at the police officer admitting people to the room. You see he was upset that him and his wife with their 3-month-old baby had been in the line since 7am. Now by this point , it was 2pm and I was the third person in the front of the line. It was all I could do to stand and if I could my 5am legs would have spent their last energy to kick him to the back of the line. The crowd was not tolerating his temper tantrum. Sad to say the couple decided to leave the polling station.
The time had finally arrived. My hand was sprayed with sanitiser and I stepped into the dark passage leading to the voting room. A woman sat by the door, checking IDs and Voters cards, by cross referencing their master list. The observers sat along the length of the room from the door, ticking voters as they were called out by another ECZ official. Hoorah, my name was on the list. There are times that some do not feature on the final list, especially had you not participated in the voter verification process. I stepped in the room. My name and numbers were announced and ticked off. Then my thumb was marked and the 4 different coloured ballot papers were marked with my voters number and stamped. Finally, I could cast my vote.
I will have a lot more to say about this later. For now all you need to know is that I wrote 4 big crosses in the allotted spaces. As I stepped to place my ballots in the boxes, the young man in a grey jersey who was behind me asked me where exactly he was supposed to put his X. In that moment, my heart froze. I could see who he wanted to vote for but he just did not know how to do it. I thought if I help him I could be kicked out, but I must help him. I tried to explain to him briefly but he still did not get it. Then we called one of the ECZ staff to help him. I can only pray they did not lie to him. I neatly folded my papers and dropped them in the designated boxes. Sigh of relief. I had done my part. Nine whole hours later. You see 9 hours was a blink of an eye in comparison to the past 10 years. In the moment I did not know whether my vote would make a difference but at least I had tried.
I walked out of that room, head held high. Tired to the bone. Some people commented that they felt hope because I had finally gone in and they saw an end in sight for themselves. I jumped in the car and went home. The time had come to wait.
Little did I know this was only the beginning of a real-life thriller that the whole nation was about to be thrown into…. Catch the second part of this saga. Africana Woman is a blog, podcast and visionary community. Do say hi on Instagram @Chulu_byDesign. Always remember my desire for you is that you love yourself flaws n all and attract the life you truly desire.