After Mugabe, what do local Zimbabweans want from July election?

Zimbabwe is preparing to hold its first elections since the notorious Robert Mugabe was forced to resign.

Zimbabwean Australians are closely watching the first elections being held in the country since Robert Mugabe resigned last year.

The poll will take place on Monday 30 July. 

Activist Sekai Holland has been visiting Canberra as an ambassador for the International Rehabilitation Council for torture victims this month. She told SBS News it’s a subject she wishes she wasn’t an expert on.

Activist Sekai Holland visiting Canberra
Source: SBS News

"In Zimbabwe we talk about 300,000 to one million torture survivors,” she told SBS News.

“When you torture one person, the whole family, the whole street, the whole clan, the whole community and your friends are affected."

When you torture one person, the whole family ... the whole community ... are affected.

- Sekai Holland, Torture survivor and activist

A leading member of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe, Ms Holland stood up to Mr Mugabe and his henchmen in 2007 and was tortured within an inch of her life.

She was taken to Australia for treatment and now helps other victims through their trauma.

Sekai Holland was a key leader of the opposition party in Zimbabwe.
Source: SBS

Who are the main candidates? 

Mr Mugabe's former-right-hand man, and now president, Emmerson Mnangagwa is seeking legitimacy in the upcoming election. It's a campaign Ms Holland said she is watching closely.

"He's abandoned hate language, he's putting economic mechanisms to get the country out of the economic drudgery it's in.” 

“So the instruments to come back to a peaceful society in Zimbabwe are there."

Supporters of Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa at a rally in Hwange.
Source: AP / AAP

Mr Mnangagwa and his ruling Zanu-PF party are tipped to secure a mandate at the end of the month. His main opponent is 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa, the new leader of the opposition, after Morgan Tsvangirai died in February.

A billboard featuring Nelson Chamisa in Harare.
Source: EPA / AAP

'Change is possible'

Sydney-based academic Bruce Mutsvairo has just returned from Zimbabwe and went to school with Mr Chamisa. He told SBS News while Mr Chamisa has youth on his side, there seems to be more support for a tried and tested leader like Mr Mnangagwa.

Mr Mutsvairo said his father, a long time opposition supporter, is changing sides.

"He's saying … he feels tired, he says 'you know, we've been supporting the opposition since 1999 when it was formed, yearning for change and the change has not come',” Mr Mutsvairo said. 

“You get the feeling they just want the election to be done, whoever wins they're just going to support him. The idea of having this emerging opposition party that would fight Mugabe, I mean, Mugabe is gone."

Bruce Mutsvairo at his Sydney home.
Source: SBS

Mr Mnangagwa, the man who a decade ago ordered the army to brutally crush the opposition, is now encouraging free speech on Twitter.

He’s told his followers to “keep messaging me, tweeting, criticising and supporting.” And said “in this new Zimbabwe you must all feel free to express your views.”

Mr Mutsvairo said he's one of many wanting to believe such change is possible.

"The issue of freedom of speech, I think it's a godsend to Zimbabweans because people never really had the chance to say what was on their mind.

“I think the time for tyranny seems to have ended with Mugabe.”

The key issue

The international community has warned a credible vote is the key to lifting sanctions, but the campaign hasn't been short of drama.

Mr Mnangagwa survived an assassination attempt at a rally last month that he's blamed on aggrieved supporters of Grace Mugabe. And her deposed husband, Mr Mugabe, is reportedly throwing his support behind the opposition.

Mr Mutsvairo said the critical issue remains the economy, which tanked under Mr Mugabe.

“People are still sleeping on the streets, trying to get their money from the bank.” Mr Mutsvairo said.

There is desire for Zimbabwe to be open for business again and as Ms Holland explained, for the next generation to engage in politics.

"I believe that more and more, as the people realise that this is their struggle, they will come forward and engage with the government and really come out in time with what is good for Zimbabwe,” she said. 

“I'm optimistic."

Published 22 July 2018 at 5:29pm
By Hannah Sinclair