As Zimbabwe prepares to go to the polls – for the first time, in 38 years, without former President Robert Mugabe as a candidate – debates are if it will be free and fair.
The date has been set for the much-anticipated Zimbabwe general elections: July 30. This will be the first time, in 38 years, the southern African nation will cast its ballot without former President Robert Mugabe on the candidate list.
“We are very excited for these elections because finally we can cast our votes with high hopes they will count,” says Zibusiso Zonke, a Zimbabwean living in South Africa.
It all began when Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s former right-hand man, surprised Zimbabwe, and the world, last year, when he orchestrated the resignation of Mugabe, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders.
Mnangagwa, also known as ‘crocodile’ for his politically cunning ways, took over as President of the ruling party, Zanu PF, thereby becoming the president of the country. He hopes voters will trust his leadership and vote for him to lead Zimbabwe to its former economic glory.
On the other hand, the country’s major opposition party, MDC-T, for the first time, will be led by Nelson Chamisa who took over as head of the party when its founder, Morgan Tsvangirai, died February 14.
The shocking fact is 133 parties will be contesting for President, MPs and councillor positions. This is also a first.
“I think this is symptomatic of an economy no longer employing people. People think if they get into politics, they might end up in parliament or government meaning they would have a job. I don’t think many of these people have particular conviction; they are just looking for employment. Most of these parties disappear after the elections,” says Mordecai Mahlangu, partner at Gill, Godlonton & Gerrans, an alliance firm of Norton Rose Fulbright.
Some Zimbabweans say they are unsure who to vote for. The ‘crocodile’ they know or 40-year-old Chamisa.
“Look, not that I’m for Emmerson Mnangagwa, but this is my problem, for Zimbabwe to re-emerge we will need the international community. Besides economic mismanagement, our problems have been due to that we had become a pariah state. Mugabe had severed many of our international relationships with his banter and behaviour. Now, we have Emmerson Mnangagwa whom the international community is engaging quickly. On the other hand, we have Chamisa whom the international community is already questioning…Morgan Tsvangirai was loved by the international community, Chamisa is being ridiculed instead and he is the source of that problem. Who do I then vote for?” asks Zimbabwean lawyer Tichaona Moyo.
“It’s a new system which has not been tried in this country…”
Moyo admits he used to be a big fan of MDC-T but now believes the party has become elitist.
“In the party, there aren’t many students, workers, and farmers anymore. The very labor movement which spearheaded its formation has been abandoned. So, l have to ask myself whose interest will such an outfit serve? Which constituent outfit does such an outfit care about?”
This is a debate among many. Lungile Mlambo says he is most likely to vote for MDC-T but worries because when Zanu PF was causing the destruction of the country, MDC-T was there and complacent.
“For me, Chamisa and Emmerson Mnangagwa are on the same footing. The former from an opposition party which has failed and the latter from a ruling party which has failed,” he says.
Over the years, there have been rumors Mugabe and Zanu PF stole the last two elections as they were rigged and people were threatened and abused into voting for the ruling party. So is this election going to be any different?
“The first thing is to debate the likelihood of a free and fair election… The concerns are the integrity of the system itself. It’s a new system which has not been tried in this country and we don’t know how it will turn out,” says Mahlangu.
It is Mahlangu’s opinion that if the election is free and fair, MDC-T might surprise the ruling party by winning.
“I get the sense that if the trend we are observing is anything to go by, the opposition might just surprise the ruling party. We have had 37 years of unhappiness. People attributed that to the ruling party. If the ruling party has been responsible for all these years of difficulty, why would anyone freely vote for them?”
The jury is out until August 4, when the winner will be announced.