Zimbabwe election: Can post-Mugabe vote heal divisions?

Zimbabweans are going to the polls on Monday in the first vote since Robert Mugabe was ousted in November, but BBC Africa editor Fergal Keane says the legacy of his 37-year rule cannot be overlooked.

They simply cannot imagine defeat.

Crowds of Zanu-PF supporters streamed into the national stadium in the capital, Harare, on Saturday morning and every person I spoke to had the same conviction: Emmerson Mnangagwa, who succeeded Mr Mugabe as president, was going to win. And win big.

“It’s gonna be an absolutely resounding victory for Emmerson Mnangagwa,” said Stanley Bote, a young businessman from Harare.

“You have to consider all he has achieved since coming into office.”

Many others simply laughed when I suggested the possibility of an opposition victory.

Inside the stadium bands played, rappers rapped. The party went on.

Zanu-PF has massive financial resources, control of the state media and immense powers of patronage.

In the nearly 40 years since independence, winning by fair means or foul is a Zanu-PF tradition.

At the heart of President Mnangagwa’s campaign lies an implicit confidence that Zimbabweans will be willing to forget, if not forgive, his own and his party’s appalling record of misrule and human rights abuses.

Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zanu-PF

  • Known as “the crocodile” because of his political shrewdness – his party faction is known as “Lacoste”
  • Accused of masterminding attacks on opposition supporters after 2008 election
  • Thought to be 75 years old, he promises to deliver jobs and is seen as open to economic reforms
  • Survived several alleged assassination attempts, blamed on supporters of ex-President Mugabe

The ‘crocodile’ who snapped back

His party’s campaign literature and rhetoric stresses the imperatives of the present: investment, jobs, education and health care.

In fact all of the things that were steadily ruined in decades of Zanu-PF rule.

But Mr Mnangagwa believes the people should be grateful because he and his co-conspirators in the army rid the country of Robert Mugabe last November.

The mantra “Zimbabwe is open for business” is repeated ceaselessly as the ruling party presents itself as the guarantor of investor-friendly stability.

Ever since the military intervention of last November the new president has been at pains to avoid apologising for the abuses of the past because, as he claimed to me recently, he was “always for peace”.

I asked if he would show humility and acknowledge his own responsibility.

He refused, insisting to me that he had never been ruthless but was “as soft as wool”.

This is the essential fiction for a man trying to persuade the international community and his own people that he represents a different Zanu-PF to the one they knew and feared.

Yet Mr Mnangagwa was as close as it was possible to be to decisions that inflicted terror and misery.

‘We want an apology’

In recent days I travelled to Matabeleland in the south of the country to meet survivors of the massacres of the early 1980s when soldiers of the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade carried out a campaign of torture and killing.

Attacks by dissidents opposed to Mr Mugabe opened the way for waves of terror directed against the perceived political enemies of the government.

This category was expanded beyond the dissidents to include thousands of members of the Matabele people from the same ethnic group as Mr Mugabe’s opponent at the time, Joshua Nkomo.

Source : BBC