Zimbabwe’s historic election had an unusual twist on the eve of voting after former leader, Robert Mugabe, called a surprise international press conference and slammed the military and current president Emmerson Mnangagwa, his former trusted lieutenant, who he said overthrew him in a coup.
This is seen as raising the stakes ahead of Monday’s tight poll as Mugabe, who ruled his country for 37 years, is still seen by many inside Zimbabwe as influential. Many of his former political allies, who have been kicked out from the ruling Zanu PF, are either running as independent candidates or have joined hands with the main opposition MDC Alliance.
Mugabe, 94, was forced to resign as leader of Zimbabwe in November after a military takeover of power that paved the way for Mnangagwa to be installed as his successor. Though the transition of power from Mugabe seemed peaceful on the surface, the former ruler has now said he wished Zimbabweans can correct the “unconstitutional” events of last November in Monday’s presidential, parliamentary and local government election. His statements, on Sunday sparked widespread interest and debate on social media but also left many voters with more questions than answers.
But perhaps the biggest take-away point from Mugabe’s surprise opening up was him admitting that MDC Alliance leader, Nelson Chamisa is “doing well” politically, a clear rebuttal of Mnangagwa’s claim he is the preferred choice for the majority of Zimbabweans, weighed down by years of poor economic performance. Mugabe said he could not vote for Mnangagwa as he is among “those who have tormented” him. He then went on to express what has been seen by many as an expression of his support for Chamisa. “I have not worked with Chamisa. He seems to be doing well judging by his rallies,” Mugabe said.
This forced Mnangagwa and his Zanu PF party into defensive mode, perhaps the clearest sign yet that Mugabe’s outspokenness had ruffled feathers. Mnangagwa quickly took to social media, saying in a video that has gone viral that since “Chamisa has forged a deal with Mugabe” Zimbabweans should “no longer believe that his (Chamisa’s) intentions are to transform Zimbabwe” for the better but to bring back Mugabe into mainstream politics through the back door.
Mnangagwa, nicknamed “the crocodile” for his patience and ruthlessness, according to some, appeared nervy and visibly angry in the video. “You either vote for Mugabe under the guise of Chamisa or you vote for a new Zimbabwe under my leadership and Zanu PF,” he warned.
Zimbabweans have been debating the Mugabe factor ahead of the election, with others saying Mugabe is desperate for attention, seeing that his name will be missing on the ballot paper for the first time since 1980 while others believe the former leader, blamed for Zimbabwe’s economic ruin, will play an influential role in tomorrow’s poll outcome.
Pedzisai Ruhanya, director for the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, sees the touted pact between Mugabe and Chamisa as beneficial in any attempt by the opposition to defeat Mnangagwa. He believes every vote Chamisa can get, including Mugabe’s—who spent years campaigning against the opposition then led by the late Morgan Tsvangirai saying it was fronting foreign Western interests—will help dislodge Zanu PF from power.