Huge optimism as masses vote in Zimbabwe

Thousands of voters anticipate change in first post-Mugabe pol

Nelson Chamisa, the leader of the MDC Alliance, casts his ballot at a polling station in Harare on Monday. Zimbabweans are going to the polls to vote for a new president after Robert Mugabe, who led the country for 37 years, was deposed in November 2017.
Nelson Chamisa, the leader of the MDC Alliance, casts his ballot at a polling station in Harare on Monday. Zimbabweans are going to the polls to vote for a new president after Robert Mugabe, who led the country for 37 years, was deposed in November 2017.
Image: Getty Images

Zimbabweans voted on Monday in the country’s first election since autocrat Robert Mugabe was ousted last year, with the opposition vowing to overcome alleged ballot fraud and defeat the ruling Zanu-PF.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s former ally in the Zanu-PF party, faces opposition leader Nelson Chamisa of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC Alliance) in a historic vote for the southern African nation.

Long lines of voters waited outside polling stations from morning, with election authorities saying early signs suggested a high turnout nationwide.

“I just have to do this. I have to see a better Zimbabwe for my kids. Things have been tough,” Tawanda Petru, 28, an unemployed man voting in Mbare, a low-income district of the capital Harare, told reporters.

“I just have to do this. I have to see a better Zimbabwe for my kids. Things have been tough,” Tawanda Petru, 28, an unemployed man voting in Mbare, a low-income district of the capital Harare, told reporters.

“I’m going to vote for Chamisa, for change. I am not afraid, I can tell you.”

Mugabe, 94, who was ousted by the military in November, voted at his regular polling station in Harare alongside his wife Grace after making a surprise intervention on the eve of the election to call for voters to reject Zanu-PF.

During a two-hour press conference at his mansion in Harare, Mugabe had said he might vote for the opposition MDC Alliance – underlining Zimbabwe’s haywire political scene since his fall.

Mnangagwa, voting in his Kwekwe constituency in central Zimbabwe, said Mugabe had the right to express his mind under the country’s new “democratic space”.

“I am very happy that the process for campaign was peaceful [and] voting today is peaceful,” he added.

Mnangagwa, 75, who has promised a fresh start despite being from the Zanu-PF elite, is the election front-runner with the advantage of covert military support, a loyal state media and a ruling party that controls government resources.

But Chamisa, a 40-year-old lawyer and pastor, who has performed strongly on the campaign trail, hopes to tap into a young population that could vote for change.

“I have no doubt that by the end of the day today we should be very clear as to an emphatic voice for change, the new, and the young – I represent that,” Chamisa said as he voted in Harare, supported by chanting supporters.

He again raised fraud allegations, saying “in the rural areas...if the ballot is a genuine one, not a fake one, victory is certain”.

The election is Zimbabwe’s first without Mugabe, who led Zanu-PF to power when the country became independent from Britain in 1980 and held office for 37 years.

Elections under Mugabe were marred by fraud and often deadly violence, and this year’s campaign has been dogged by accusations the result will be rigged.

The MDC has raised repeated allegations of a flawed electoral roll, ballot paper malpractice, voter intimidation and bias in the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. But campaigning has been relatively unrestricted and peaceful.

A recent Afrobarometer survey of 2,400 people put Mnangagwa on 40% and Chamisa on 37%, with 20% undecided.

Mnangagwa, who is accused of involvement in election violence and fraud under Mugabe, invited international observers – including the previously-banned EU team – to the poll.

The next government must tackle mass unemployment and an economy shattered by the Mugabe-backed seizure of white-owned farms, the collapse of agriculture, hyperinflation and an investment exodus.

Previously solid health and education services are in ruins and millions have fled abroad to seek work.

With 5.6 million registered voters, the results of the presidential, parliamentary and local elections are due by August 4.

“I voted for Mnangagwa. We cannot trust the inexperienced. They will take the country back to our colonisers,” said Robina Mayobiongwe, 80, voting in Lupane in rural west Zimbabwe.

A run-off vote is scheduled for September 8 if no presidential candidate wins at least 50% in the first round. 

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