Munyaradzi Mushawatu, an electrician in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, was both ecstatic and jittery after President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced recently that national elections would be held on Aug. 23.
“I have voted in every election since 1990. I can’t wait to make my voice heard. I am ready,” said Mushawatu. But the bravado turned to chagrin as he recalled how the country’s “skewed” elections environment has remained intact for decades.
“It’s only the election date that is new. The usual old obstacles remain,” said the 56–year-old father of three.
Allegations of fraud, violence and harassment of opposition members have characterized elections held in Zimbabwe since independence from white minority rule in 1980.
The 2018 elections were the first following a coup that replaced Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s longtime autocratic ruler, with Mnangagwa, amid promises of reform.
But after a close-run contest, the Constitutional Court dismissed opposition leader Nelson Chamisa’s claims of vote-rigging.
Mnangagwa, an 80-year-old former enforcer and ally of Mugabe, is again expected to face a strong challenge from the 45-year-old Chamisa. The election will also decide the composition of the 350-seat parliament and close to 2,000 local council positions.
For many Zimbabweans, hope offered by the Aug. 23 elections is eclipsed by a realization that although Mnangagwa has tried to present himself as a reformer, prevailing conditions suggest that he is even more repressive than the man he helped remove from power.