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#Zimbabwe election campaign takes dramatic turn as #Mugabe turns against his own party

By Kim Sengupta | UK Independent |

The impending and historic election in Zimbabwe has taken an extraordinary twist after a dramatic intervention by Robert Mugabe who savagely attacked the ruling party he had once led, and praised the main opposition candidate as the only viable option who can “return legitimate government to the country.”

Robert Mugabe
Robert Mugabe

The 94-year-old former president delivered a bitter invective against Zanu-PF saying: “I must say clearly I can’t vote for those who tormented me, no I can’t.”

He condemned the “evil and malicious characters” who had removed him from power and decried the military intervention which brought it about.

The polls on Monday, the first in 38 years without Mr Mugabe being in power, were being presented as a break from the dark past and the first steps towards repairing a fractured nation with a deeply divided society and an imploded economy.

But the sudden reappearance of the man who was, until recently, the longest serving head of state in Africa, has now added an uncertain new dynamic to that equation.

Mr Mugabe did not directly endorse the opposition MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) alliance. But there was undoubted approval for its leader who is challenging the acting President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a former ally of Mr Mugabe who replaced him in last November’s coup.

Nelson Chamisa
Nelson Chamisa

Mr Mugabe said: “Nelson Chamisa seems to be doing well by his rallies. He wants a legitimate government to be in power and an end to one brought about by military intervention…I would certainly wish to meet him if he wins.”

He himself, said the former president, will choose from the candidates for his vote, but it will not be Mr Mnangagwa, of the “18th November team” which carried out his overthrow.

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There were immediate claims afterwards that Mr Mugabe’s wife, Grace, was the driving force behind the move.

The former First Lady, who is accused by her critics of rampant corruption and plotting to run the country through her husband before his fall, is a bitter enemy of Mr Mnangagwa.

Mrs Mugabe stood beside her husband, with an assistant holding an umbrella over her, as he spoke at a hastily and unexpectedly arranged press conference at Blue Roofs, the house in Harare where the couple had continued to stay after the president was stripped of office. At one point she asked Mr Mugabe to “speak up please”.

It remains to be seen what effect Mr Mugabe’s move will have on the election in which Mr Chamisa is trailing Mr Mnangagwa by three points in the opinion polls.

The MDC leader, who once had his skull fractured by state security agents of the Mugabe regime, may gain from the former president’s supporters who resented his removal, but at the same time this may put off the large portion of floating voters in the electorate.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa
President Emmerson Mnangagwa

Mr Mnangagwa, who has been careful not to say anything particularly critical of Mr Mugabe, may lose the support of the Zanu-PF old guard, but it may also provide an opportunity to put aside the baggage he had been carrying for his long alliance with Mr Mugabe.

On Saturday, in the last round of election rallies, Mr Chamisa was accompanied on the stage by Eunice Sandi-Moyo, the head of the National Patriotic Front (NPF) organisation which had been set up by Mugabe loyalists in March.

The membership were largely composed to the ‘G 40’ or ‘ Generation 40’ group in Zanu-PF who had hitched their stars to the ascent of Grace Mugabe.

The MDC leader said “Robert Mugabe is a citizen of Zimbabwe, former president, and the President of the first republic who is going to hand over to the second president of the republic – who is me, myself here present. Let me welcome the NPF here as the genuine Zanu-PF, it means we have the original Zanu-PF here, authentic and undiluted.”

The ‘G 40’ have been blamed for the grenade attack in Bulawayo a month ago targeting President Mnangagwa which killed two people and injured more than 40 others.

No evidence has been produced so far to back the claim made by, among others, Mr Mnangagwa and government officials of an alleged connection between ‘G 40’ and Mugabe. A number of people were arrested after the attack, some have been freed.

Mr Chamisa had, in the past, been forced to deny rumours that he had received funding from the Mugabes. However, he said: “We welcome every vote ; Mugabe we welcome your vote. We want a new dispensation, a fresh start.”

The MDC leader had also faced claims that Grace Mugabe or other former members of the Mugabe government may be part of an administration if he were to win the election.

But there was ambiguity in the denial. He said at a recent rally: “ Whoever wants to join us is welcome, our bus doesn’t get full but there is no way one can join a church and become a deacons the same day”.