Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe’s acting president, will only serve one term in office if he wins in the impending election, his daughter has revealed, as the rival candidates held their last round of rallies before the country goes to the historic polls on Monday.
“He knows that mistakes were made in the past and in many ways he is the one who is in the best position to put them right,” Farai Mnangagwa Mlotshwa told The Independent. “He will serve for just one term, but the country is in a very difficult position at the moment, and he is the right man for the job. He has been around for a long time and has the experience that is needed.”
The “mistakes” took place during the rule of Robert Mugabe, of whom Mr Mnangagwa was a long-time ally in government – holding the post of vice-president – until the two men spectacularly fell out and Mr Mnangagwa replaced Africa’s longest-serving head of state following a coup.
Should her father have made his move against Mr Mugabe much earlier? “No, there is a time for everything, it happened when it did. I think most people agree we need to look forward now.
“We think that Zanu-PF are going to win this election, but there are problems to solve for the government. The economy is the biggest one,” said Ms Mnangagwa Mlotshwa, who was in the country’s diplomatic service before starting a real-estate business.
Mr Mnangwagwa, 75, had given no indication hitherto that he would leave the presidency after one term. Ninety-four-year-old Mr Mugabe, who did not face any charges after being overthrown, lives in Harare with his wife, Grace, and there have been several elderly heads of state in Africa.
However, one of the main campaign themes of the opposition alliance led by the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) has been that the major reforms can only take place with the old-guard of Zanu-PF driven from power. MDC’s populist leader, 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa, has repeatedly charged that those who represent the past must be swept away for Zimbabwe to be able to move forward.
“Yes, one can talk about a young candidate being motivational for people of that age, I am 42 myself. But I can think of plenty of other 40-year-olds who would make better candidates than Nelson Chamisa. He offers no solutions, just criticism, he treats people with disrespect. There are doubts about his character. I think there will be a lot of uncertainty if he comes to power,” said Ms Mnangagwa Mlotshwa.
The election, the first in 38 years without Mr Mugabe in charge, remains close, with opinion polls putting Mr Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF three points ahead of the opposition.
Karam Shetty had no doubt about the effect of a Chamisa victory. Waving his arms at the Zanu-PF supporters at Harare’s National Stadium, he commented: “A lot of these people will see no improvement in their lives, in fact it will get worse. What real economic policies does the MDC have to help Zimbabwe? What credentials do Chamisa have?”
Mr Shetty, a 32-year-old businessman of Indian descent, maintained that commercial confidence would be badly hit if Mr Chamisa wins. “A lot of people will be straight on a flight out of the country, I may be among them. The Zanu-PF government has started on policies which are opening up the country to desperately needed international investment, it’ll be disastrous if that stops.
“We need strong leaders in difficult places and sometimes strong leaders have past; although you don’t know how much of that is down to propaganda. The west got rid of strong leaders in Iraq and Libya, look what’s happened to those places. I believe that Zimbabwe would be fine as long as it has a stable and experienced government.”
Despite his vocal confidence in the country, Mr Shetty was wearing body-armour under his T-shirt, a precaution taken after the election campaign started in a truly explosive fashion with an attempted assassination of Mr Mnangagwa in a grenade attack a month ago.
Although there have been complaints of intimidation and harassment during the campaign, incidents of violence have remained relatively low. The opposition, however, has alleged manipulation of voter rolls, and the danger of fraud has been a constant theme in Mr Chamisa’s speeches.
At the weekend Mr Chamisa repeated his claim that the electoral commission is biased in favour of Mr Mnangagwa and vowed that “peaceful” protests would be held if the outcome was suspicious.
The mood among MDC supporters at the party’s final rally at Freedom Square was much more combative. They had been referring to their candidate as President Chamisa for weeks and the narrative of the elections being lost only through theft was echoed by voter Wilson Tanatswanashe:
“Zanu-PF has a history of staying in power through cheating. Just because Mugabe has gone it does not mean this has changed. No one here is going to believe we have lost, we have accepted this kind of stealing in the past, but not any more, we must seize this chance.”
Nomore Bero, Precious Kaltano and Alex Majid have returned home from South Africa to vote and they too were in no mood to accept defeat. “We shall hold marches day after day, we are not going to give up,” said 38-year-old Ms Bero. “We are prepared to die for this if necessary.”
There was nothing much new in the speeches at the end of this short but exhaustive campaign. Mr Mnangagwa promised a “thunderous victory” and spoke of how “we have opened the country to the world” and asked to be allowed to “complete the task”. Mr Chamisa accused Zanu-PF of “lies and lies when they talk of job creation”, pledged “I shall secure the livelihood of citizens” and proclaimed “change is in the air and they cannot stop us”.
Significantly more appeared to have attended the MDC rally than the 40,000 or so who appeared at Zanu-PF’s, although not perhaps the 120,000 claimed by MDC officials. There also appeared to be an element of crossover with some of Mr Mnangagwa’s supporters removing their colours and going to the MDC gathering. “We are not here to cause trouble,” insisted one of them, Silver Garikai. “We have just come to see what latest nonsense Nelson is speaking.”