Inside Story

Mugabe: ‘Go and vote your own way’

With elections looming in Zimbabwe, can Africa’s longest-serving president survive yet another political challenge?

As Zimbabwe marks the 33rd anniversary of its independence from British colonial rule, President Robert Mugabe has been addressing supporters in Harare. It is something he has been doing now for more than three decades. And at 89 years old, it seems he has no plans to stop.

There are lots of people who haven’t had a vote before who we thought did have a vote …. There are a number or reasons why we should delay [elections] for a while. One is to get the voter’s roll sorted out. Secondly, I don’t know who is going to pay for this election …. With the best will in the world – everyone can want the elections –  there isn’t a voters roll that’s ready to go, and nor is there the money to pay for it.”

– Georgina Godwin, a Zimbabwean-born journalist

Mugabe plans to contest elections scheduled for later this year. Addressing crowds at the national sports stadium in Harare, he urged Zimbabweans to vote peacefully, to confound what he called foreign critics.

But there is both optimism and anger going into the presidential poll.

A referendum on a new constitution was successfully carried out last month and a resounding 95 percent backed the new charter which imposes a limit of two five-year terms on the office of president.

It strengthens human rights and calls for impartiality in the police and the military.

But many Zimbabweans say even now, they have yet to enjoy the fruits of indepenence.

The economy is showing signs of improvement since the unity government was formed in 2008. But critics point to food and fuel shortages, rampant corruption, unemployment and poverty.
It is estimated up to 80 per cent of Zimbabweans are below the poverty threshold – that is the minimum level of income deemed adequate to live in Zimbabwe.

One harsh critic, Nobel Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, describes him as “a cartoon figure of the archetypal African dictator,” and yet it appears Mugabe still inspires loyalty and even affection, among a myriad of supporters.

So has the former freedom fighter Robert Mugabe changed life for the better? And with elections looming, can Africa’s longest-serving president survive yet another political challenge?

To discuss this Inside Story, with presenter Mike Hanna, is joined by guests: Obert Gutu, from the Movement for Democratic Change; Bright Matonga, a member of parliament for the Zanu-PF party; and Georgina Godwin a Zimbabwean-born broadcaster and journalist.

“The United Nations should know better. Zimbabwe is a sovereign state so you can’t put conditions that are not conducive to the environment in the country, that may lead to actually influencing the voters pattern …. There are economic sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe …. all the diamond mine companies are under sanctions, even the president. How do you expect him to carry out his duties when he is under sanctions? …. At the end of the day … there will be elections very soon, and the people of Zimbabwe are going to vote in a very peaceful manner.”

– Bright Matonga, a member of parliament for the Zanu-PF party