History in the making as Zimbabweans choose new leader
More than five million people have registered to cast their ballots in a crunch election which has drawn interest from around the world.
HARARE – After months of preparations, political mudslinging and much anticipation Zimbabweans will finally go to the polls on Monday morning to elect a new president.
About five million Zimbabweans have registered to vote, and the authorities are hoping for a large turnout at over 10,000 polling stations across Zimbabwe.
For the first time since the country’s independence, the country's ruling party will not be led by Robert Mugabe, who was removed from power last year after a military takeover.
In the run-up to today's poll, the two main contenders, incumbent President Emmerson Mnangangwa and the opposition MDC-Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa have been crisscrossing the country to canvas votes and taking the opportunity to take a swipe at each other.
History is indeed being made in Zimbabwe for many reasons.
The eyes of the world are fixed on this Southern African country today as it navigates one of its biggest political changes.
Many people in Harare have had mixed feelings about this election, calling it a make or break for this country.
One prominent figure who will be voting, of course, is the country's longest-serving leader, Mugabe.
He's made his feelings about his party, the Zanu-PF, very clear.
Mugabe was speaking during a media briefing at his mansion in Harare on Sunday.
The stakes are high and the interest even more intense.
Officials have been at pains to assure the world that everything possible has been done to prepare for this watershed election.
In just under an hour, at 7am, voting booths will be open under the watchful eye of election observers.
Mnangagwa has welcomed foreign media and international observers from the European Union, the United States and the Commonwealth, while opposition parties have been allowed to campaign freely.
Chamisa’s MDC has already discredited the process. He accused the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) of bias, citing opaque ballot paper printing and a voters’ roll that includes dead people and children.
The ZEC has repeatedly defended its independence.
While the election may not be judged ‘free and fair’, analysts say it may be classed as ‘good enough’ when measured against the rigging and violent suppression that marred votes under Mugabe.
Mnangagwa, often referred to as just “ED”, has made a big effort to win over the international community, hosting Western ambassadors, courting foreign investors and even patching up relations with white commercial farmers who were violently evicted from their farms under Mugabe.
“Look what he has done in just seven months. The place has changed,” said Patrick Musemburi, a 37-year-old minibus taxi driver in the capital Harare.
“Let him finish what he started.”
For all his talk of a ‘new’ Zimbabwe, Mnangagwa’s opponents are at pains to remind people that he was a trusted lieutenant of Mugabe for five decades and has failed to deliver on promises of change in the past.
“How long are we supposed to wait for things to get better? ED is full of lies just like the rest of the Zanu-PF,” said Chris Lore, a 26-year old street hawker.
“Chamisa is young. He has the energy to get us the jobs we need. It’s time for a change. We have suffered enough.”
Whoever wins will face the mammoth task of putting Zimbabwe back on track after 37 years of Mugabe rule that was tainted by corruption, mismanagement and diplomatic isolation, sending one of Africa’s most promising economies into crisis.
NO ROOM FOR GRACE MUGABE
Chamisa has been quick to dismiss speculation that he may collaborate with the Mugabes.
“There’s this misconception – and I must clear it once and for all – there is no room for Grace Mugabe in my cabinet. This is desperation by Zanu-PF who have their own issues with the Mugabes. I have nothing to do with what [former] president [Robert] Mugabe would want to say as a voter, he’s a citizen.”
A confident Chamisa has claimed victory ahead of the country's elections, saying Monday's polls are just a formality.
Chamisa's lawyer, advocate Thulani Mpofu used the briefing to iron out concerns surrounding tomorrow's polls, outlining logistical procedures such as the use of voting equipment, and the expected voter etiquette at voting stations
Anticipation is mounting as Zimbabweans prepare to make their mark in what has largely been described as a historic election.
The votes will come as a first since independence without former stronghold Mugabe and his main opposer, the late Morgan Tsvangirai, running for the top seat.
(Edited by Leeto M Khoza)