Harare diary: How Zimbabwe has changed

Election posters in Harare 30 July 2013

During Zimbabwe's last election and the chaos of the following year, a professional living and working in the capital, Harare, wrote a diary for the BBC about life in the city and what it was like to live with record hyperinflation.

Esther (not her real name), who is now 33, picks up her pen again as Zimbabweans go back to the polls to describe what has changed in the nearly four years since her last entry.

The election heralds the end of the power-sharing deal between President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party and the Movement of Democratic Change led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

Diary entry:

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If a relative in the diaspora sent say $50, and that was changed $5 at a time into Zimbabwean dollars, a family could last the month”

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I distinctly recall buying 12 loaves of bread in Messina, the South African town bordering Zimbabwe, and how good it felt to eat it back in Harare, and how a cousin was elated when I gave her one loaf as a gift.

She said: "My children will be so happy!"

That was us in 2008, struggling for everything - no water in our taps, constant power cuts, unending fuel and bank queues, and most of all, no food in the shops, not even bread.

We had to go down to South Africa or Botswana to buy basics.

Now I have the choice of white, brown, whole-wheat, rye, brioche, garlic, flat breads… Life has changed.

A Zimbabwean purchases bread in Harare on 21 September 2008 with the Zimbabwe dollar equivalent of $2 In 2008, a fistful of Zimbabwe dollars was needed to buy a loaf of bread

Back then everyone struggled - the cousin I mentioned above lives in the upmarket northern suburbs of Harare.

But it's really difficult for those who don't earn much.

Before we abandoned our own currency to take up the US dollar and South African rand in 2009 (we use any kind of money, but mostly those two) you could at least trade in currency - albeit illegally, to generate a bit of money.

If a relative in the diaspora sent say $50 (£32), and that was changed $5 at a time into Zimbabwean dollars, a family could last the month, paying for utilities, rent and food.

Now $50 is rent for one room in a high density area. So life is tougher for low earners.

We had the 2008 polls amid all these shortages. How the president survived the election is a wonder.

Double take
Supporters of President Robert Mugabe Critics say President Robert Mugabe has been airbrushed to look younger

We're going back to the polls, with three weeks' notice.

When the announcement came through we were all pretty much shocked. I honestly thought we'd back track and reschedule. But we're going ahead!

It's so different from the last elections, it's all very quiet!

No reports of atrocities in the rural areas, no rumours of army bases, no certificates for having been beaten up.

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Our employment rate is the unemployment rate of other countries”

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I was so very fearful of that.

Instead, I saw women in their red T-shirts leaving the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party's headquarters just the other day; because they know no-one will beat them up for doing so.

The most amazing thing for me has been hearing party adverts other than from Zanu-PF on live radio. I did a double take the first time.

We have two main parties here, and both seem to have mass produced T-shirts and caps with their tag lines. They are everywhere!

And we're seeing the products of Photoshop with the incumbent airbrushed and cropped to the point where he looks like someone else.

I've heard and laughed over so many comments on this poster: "Looks like his younger brother, maybe it's a picture from the 1980s? His own likeness doesn't inspire confidence - he's now too old" and so on.

Supporters of Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai hold a sign with different Zimbabwean dollar bills ranging in value from Z$5 to Z$500m Zimbabweans do not want to see a return to hyperinflation

All this in hushed tones and behind closed doors, mocking him is still a punishable offense - that hasn't changed.

It has been said the youth will determine this one.

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I haven't come across anyone who has really studied a single manifesto to help them decide”

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I'm still young, I believe I fit into this group.

I'm a university graduate renting a house in an OK neighbourhood, driving, like most people my age, an ex-Japanese import that came in with 100,000km on the clock.

I am working, which makes me part of a tiny 7-10% of the population.

Our employment rate is the unemployment rate of other countries. That is massive and unacceptable really.

So you can imagine how the youth have been talking ahead of polling day.

We want a working economy; we want jobs that provide full employment.

Zimbabwe election: Key facts

  • About 6.4 million registered voters
  • Polls open at 05:00 GMT and close at 17:00 GMT
  • Vote for president and parliament
  • Zanu-PF's Robert Mugabe and MDC's Morgan Tsvangirai are the main contenders
  • Mr Mugabe, 89, is seeking to extend his 33-year rule
  • Mr Tsvangirai, 61, hopes to become president after three failed attempts
  • The poll ends the fractious coalition between Zanu-PF and MDC, which was brokered by regional mediators after disputed elections in 2008 that were marred by violence
  • First election under new constitution

We want to move out of rented apartments and cottages and move into houses with affordable mortgages.

We want security, freedom of association and speech.

We are part of the global village with internet on our phones, so we want what every other young person out there wants.

I haven't come across anyone who has really studied a single manifesto to help them decide.

Maybe I move in the wrong circles?

Anyway, from where I stand this one is about gut feeling - who will give me what I want?

Forget the catch words on the posters, in the radio and TV ads - those could well have been a waste of money.

I think minds were made up a long time ago, and we'll see how it goes. I hope they don't make us wait for the results for five weeks like they did after the first round in 2008!

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