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Zimbabwe Election: Crocodile Fights Dirty in ‘Rigged’ Vote

For Chris Mapua it is hard now to recall the tyranny of Robert Mugabe. Life in Zimbabwe is more wretched and often more terrifying under the...

For Chris Mapua it is hard now to recall the tyranny of Robert Mugabe. Life in Zimbabwe is more wretched and often more terrifying under the rule of the man who toppled him.

“This is what passes for skilled labour,” Mapua said, taking a filthy, ragged $5 note, polishing it with a lemon and delicately glueing it into one piece. 

He trained to become a teacher, but can make more on Harare’s streets buying up decrepit greenbacks that are rejected by shops, restoring them and selling them on. Once one of Africa’s most educated and thriving economies, Zimbabwe is a nation of bright hawkers where millions are starving.

A general election on Wednesday offers the illusion that Zimbabweans can put an end to more than four decades of rule by the president’s party, Zanu-PF, over a country that remains a popular destination for British tourists. 

But the early indications of intimidation and ballot rigging have struck even those accustomed to violent, rigged elections as unusually brazen.

“I will vote, but the winning team and captain are already decided,” said Mapua, 33, who exhausted his stores of hope when Mugabe was ousted in 2017 and his successor Emmerson Mnangagwa promised a fresh start. “We thought Mugabe was bad, but this one? This Mnangagwa has no heart.”

David Coltart, a member of the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change, known as Triple-C, said: “The most illegal election I’ve ever participated in, it’s illegality on steroids.” On Saturday afternoon, only days before the ballot, election authorities had still not produced the final voters’ roll or the number and location of polling stations. 
Zimbabwe Election: Crocodile Fights Dirty in ‘Rigged’ Vote

The confusion is a ruse to stop the opposition getting its own polling agents registered in time. It also reflects a panic that set in after by-elections last year when Triple-C won 18 of 29 seats available.

“We have had that sort of nonsense in the past, ” said Coltart, who was education minister in a Mugabe-era government when power was shared with the opposition. “But not this close to the election.”

Mnangagwa, 80, is more loathed than Mugabe ever was. Proud to be known as the Crocodile, he has ruthlessly crushed dissent. Dozens of opposition gatherings have been cancelled or disrupted. 

Earlier this month Tinashe Chitsunge, a Triple-C supporter, was heading to a rally in Harare when he was beaten and stoned to death, in front of witnesses, by a gang wearing Zanu-PF regalia. An investigation by police found he had been run over by a truck, Godwin Matanga, the police commissioner-general, said last week.

Women MPs have been kidnapped, beaten and sexually assaulted. Job Sikhala, a lawyer and Triple-C MP, has spent more than a year in jail since he accused ruling party thugs of killing an opposition activist whose dismembered body was found stuffed into a well.

At the same time living standards have collapsed. Forty per cent of the country live on less than the equivalent of $2.15 (£1.70) a day — up from 23 per cent a decade ago — and annual inflation doubled to 175 per cent in June. 

A fifth of the population have been forced to leave to find work in neighbouring South Africa or in Britain where Zimbabweans account for 13,000 skilled-worker visas, second only to India. Remittances from the diaspora bring more money into Zimbabwe than direct foreign investment.

Most of the votes cast this week will be by Zimbabwe’s under-35s, 90 per cent of whom are unemployed.

A paid-for visit to Zimbabwe last month by the retired boxing champion Floyd Mayweather was seen as a desperate attempt to win their approval. 

“He [Mnangagwa] is for the people, and I told him he has my support 100 per cent, so we need him brought back here [to State House]; for a great cause, for the people,” Mayweather said during his brief stay in Harare for which he is reported to have charged between $500,000 and $750,000.

The presidential vote is a rematch of the 2018 election when Mnangagwa defeated the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance candidate Nelson Chamisa, who is now leader of Triple-C, by a tiny margin. The results were disputed and Chamisa, 45, lost a legal attempt to overturn it. 

Under Zimbabwean electoral law, for a candidate to win in the first round, he or she needs to get more than 50 per cent of the vote. If none of the contenders reaches that mark, a runoff will take place on 2 October.

Human Rights Watch has warned that this year’s vote for councillors, MPs and president will be held under a “seriously flawed electoral process” that falls short of international standards for freedom and fairness. 

In a new report, the Washington-based rights group said the adoption and use of repressive laws, biased electoral authorities and an intimidating and violent police force “demonstrated a lack of respect for the basic freedoms necessary for a credible, free, and fair election”.

The report’s title, Crush them Like Lice was a reference to threat made against Triple-C by Constantino Chiwenga, a deputy president and retired army general, during a Zanu-PF rally last year at the same time as police were using tear gas to break up an opposition gathering.

Mindful of the international election observers that are present, including from its African neighbours, the EU and the Commonwealth, Mnangagwa has publicly ordered his supporters to act peacefully. 

A vote for Zanu-PF would secure a place in heaven, the president told a rally in Harare on Wednesday where crowds were given loaves of bread in plastic wrapping printed with his face.

Wearing his trademark scarf with the red, white, green and yellow colours of the Zimbabwean flag, Mnangagwa blamed the country’s ills on international sanctions and “negative forces” outside the country, echoing the late Mugabe’s rhetoric. - The Times 

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