Nelson Chamisa steps down from the podium. The crowd is still cheering. Promises have been made, slogans shouted, jokes cracked and prayers said. The campaign is drawing to an end. The rally in Chitungwiza, a sprawling satellite town of the capital, Harare, is one of the loudest, and one of the last.
“We are closer to victory and to change than ever in the history of our country,” Chamisa told the sea of supporters who had waited for hours under the warm winter sun. “This is about light against darkness, and we represent the light; happiness and hunger, the future against the past.”
On Monday, millions will cast their votes in the first election in Zimbabwe since Robert Mugabe was forced to resign as president after 37 years in power last November. It will determine the future of the former British colony for decades to come.
Chamisa, the opposition’s presidential candidate, has been talking without pause for two frenetic months. Now, fearful of massive rigging by the ruling ZANU-PF party, his tactics are straightforward: declare victory early.
So on Tuesday the former lawyer and lay preacher told businesspeople at a meeting in Harare: “Next week we will have a new government and a new president … and that will be me.”
On Wednesday, he told a press conference that his party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), would not boycott a “flawed” poll because “winners don’t quit”.
On Thursday, he told the Guardian the MDC was “undefeatable”, adding that Zimbabwe would be “plunged into unprecedented chaos” if the party was denied their victory through fraud.
When the campaign started in late May, any such confidence would have seemed misplaced. Polls put Chamisa and the MDC trailing Emmerson Mnangagwa, who succeeded Mugabe as President and the leader of the ZANU-PF, by an apparently unbridgeable gap. Now the gap has narrowed to just three percentage points.
The contrast between the candidates could not be greater. Mnangagwa, 75, was Mugabe’s right-hand man for decades before being sidelined just before the dictator’s fall. A dour former spy chief, he is implicated in much of the violent repression of recent decades. Some voters believe he offers stability, or, as one Harare analyst put it, “the devil they know”.
Chamisa, 40, joined the MDC shortly after its foundation 19 years ago and was badly beaten in 2008 by ruling party thugs. His only experience of government is a four-year spell as a junior minister in a coalition government. Nonetheless, he has captured the hopes of large numbers of Zimbabwe’s young and urban voters.
“He says what we are thinking. He knows what we want,” said Akeem Brown, 23, a singer in Chitungwiza.
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