Chamisa raids ZANU-PF stronghold, talks up Mugabe ‘endorsement’

MDC-Alliance leader and opposition presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa addresses supporters at a campaign rally in Bindura on July 27, 2018./ AFP PHOTO / MARCO LONGARI

BINDURA – MAIN opposition candidate Nelson Chamisa of the MDC Alliance played up his ‘endorsement’ by former President Robert Mugabe as he made a foray into a province that has long been a bastion of ZANU-PF.

In the 2013 elections, Mugabe took 86% of the total 380,000 votes in Mashonaland Central, while Morgan Tsvangirai polled 12% in the provincial race.

Hoping to tap into residual support for Mugabe, who was forced out in a palace coup last November, Chamisa accused President Emmerson Mnangagwa and ZANU-PF ‘abandoning’ their former leader.

Chamisa is in a tight presidential race with Mnangagwa, only three percentage points behind the incumbent, according to a July poll by Afrobarometer. The poll, however, shows Mnangagwa holding a 22 percentage point lead on Chamisa in Mashonaland Central.

“Now they want to dump Mugabe on my lap, yet they are the ones who enabled him for 38 years. Anyway, I will never reject any vote, even Mugabe’s, and I’m saying to him — pass the ball and I will score,” Chamisa, speaking in Shona, said to cheers from his supporters.

“Mugabe has said that, of the 23 (presidential) candidates, I’m the one to take the country forward.”

Chamisa added that ZANU-PF was weaker without Mugabe, who has sharply criticised the new ZANU-PF leadership under his former protege Mnangagwa, whose government he has called illegitimate.

The former president has flirted with an opposition ZANU-PF off-shoot, the National Patriotic Front (NPF), but the party has floundered and split, mainly over whether to back Chamisa or support its own presidential candidate. A faction of the party has backed Ambrose Mutinhiri for the presidency, while another is supporting Chamisa.

The Bindura rally was Chamisa’s 80th and the penultimate one, with the last one being held in Harare on Saturday, the final day of the campaign.

The youthful presidential challenger said he had deliberately chosen Bindura as the venue of his last rally outside the capital.

“Bindura is special to us, this is the place where our leader Morgan Tsvangirai lived and worked for a long time, it is a heroic, historic province,” Chamisa said.

Bindura also represents a symbolic target for the MDC Alliance, as the mining town has been a hotpot of violence targeted at opposition supporters over the years.

In a marked shift from previous election campaigns, Friday’s rally was held in a carnival atmosphere, with opposition and ruling party supporters, who also had a campaign event across the small town, mingling without incident.

“People are still intimidated to come out to an MDC rally, because of what has happened in the past,” opposition supporter Brian Tawodzera told newZWire as he entered Chipadze stadium. “But the situation is much better compared to the past, you can see those of us who have come, moving freely.”

In his stump speech, Chamisa accused the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) of conspiring with ZANU-PF to rig Monday’s poll. He also promised to make Bindura, which already has two universities, a university town with the addition of yet another.

Chamisa also pledged to scrap the bond note parallel currency and to revive agriculture, saying there would be no reversal of land redistribution. Resettled farmers would get title deeds under his administration, he said.

Speaking to journalists after his 40 minute speech, Chamisa complained that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) had not responded to his written protest over the conduct of the elections.