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Home / World / On the eve of the vote in Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe says he will not support his old party: NPR

On the eve of the vote in Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe says he will not support his old party: NPR



Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe holds a press conference at his residence on Sunday, July 29, 2018, on the eve of the country's most important election.

Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi / AP


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Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi / AP

Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe holds a press conference at his residence on Sunday, July 29, 2018, on the eve of the country's most important election.

Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi / AP

Robert Mugabe sat on a green office chair. He was wearing sunglasses, and he looked small in the middle of a large pavilion in one of Harare's richest suburbs.

Just behind him was a pond, and on a sloping hill his mansion. A sprawling multistory home, flanked by granite lions and crowned with blue, Chinese-inspired tiles that give it its name – "The Blue Roof".

For 37 years Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist. He spends most of his time in the villa since the military forced him to resign in November. Since then he is only once known publicly. And the day before the elections – the first time he has not participated in the vote since Zimbabwe's independence in 1980 – the notoriously lengthy Mugabe did not want to remain silent.

"I can not vote for those who have tormented me," he said. "I can not."

Mugabe then strongly hinted that he would support Nelson Chamisa, the young lawyer, pastor and leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

It was a remarkable act of political revenge.

Last year, Mugabe was overthrown by his former vice president and executor, Emmerson Mnangagwa. Under Mugabe, Mnangagwa was banned from the government, but he formed abroad and persuaded Army Commander-in-Chief Constantino Chiwenga to join him in order to force Mugabe out of power.

In November, tanks rolled through the streets of the capital. The troops surrounded Mugabe's house, and for the first time in decades, the military allowed Zimbabweans to march on the streets massively to demand Mugabe's resignation. In the corner, Mugabe stepped back. Mnangagwa assumed the presidency and Chiwenga became its vice president.

On Sunday, Mugabe spoke for nearly two hours. He was sometimes bitter, unruly and still eaten away by the betrayal. He said he hoped the election on Monday would "bring a better day".

And without a sense of irony, said the man who ruled a regime that for decades crushed the resistance that he longed for the days of freedom in Zimbabwe. He said that since his disempowerment, his friends and allies no longer have the freedom to express their support for him.

"What have we become in the country," he said. "Have we become savages, terrorists for us?"

Despite his fall, Mugabe remains a strong figure in Zimbabwe. He still has a base and President Mnangagwa accused Mugabe loyalists of a grenade attack on one of his rallies earlier this month. Therefore, his speech was carefully monitored, and officials in Mugabe's former party, Zanu-PF, responded quickly.

Nick Mangwana, who is part of the communications team of Zanu-PF, wrote on Twitter that they would have done it "made aware of the rumbling of a retired old man."

"He is a retiree and we will respect him as a cultivated African in this regard, despite the fact that he no longer deserves it," he wrote. "He has a voice like all of us and his choice is respected."

Later in the evening, Mnangagwa tried to turn the tables. He recorded a video message stating that Mugabe's statement made it clear that he was now part of an alliance with the opposition.

"The choice is clear, either choose Mugabe under the guise of Chamisa or you choose a new Zimbabwean under my leadership and Zanu-PF," he said.

Mugabe defended his record. He hinted that he had always won his election fairly and fairly, and that he had remained in power without the help of the military. Over the years, however, human rights groups have documented systemic intimidation and manipulation of voters. For example, after the 2008 elections, tens of thousands of people were displaced when the government unleashed violence against MDC supporters.

"Let us pray that the morning will bring us good news," he said. "And I think the good news for all is that we get our freedom back, that we get democracy back."

The most credible poll has Mnangagwa and Chamisa in a dead heat.


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