In a week’s time, Zimbabwe goes to the polls to elect a new government and president in what is the most important election since it gained independence from Britain in April 1980.
Like South Africa, Zimbabwe has been expecting a new dawn in the wake of the ousting last year of Robert Mugabe as president. Like South Africa, that new dawn has been a long time in coming for Zimbabwe.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been doing all the right things and making all the right noises in the run-up to the poll, promising a break from the corruption and ruin of the Mugabe era; although he is still very much part and parcel of the ruling Zanu-PF party which collaborated with Mugabe and enabled him to plunge the country into poverty.
Mnangagwa, too, has a history, including his involvement in the country’s security apparatus in the ’80s – much as he likes to deny it – when North Korean-trained soldiers of the Zimbabwe National Army were let loose in the southern province of Matabeleland and slaughtered thousands of people.
His visit to Bulawayo – the main city in Matabeleland – a few weeks ago was the scene of an alleged attempt to assassinate him with a hand grenade. This may or may not show that the people in the province hate Mnangagwa, but it does show the country is still precariously volatile.
On the other hand, political campaigning is said to be the freest in the country’s history. Zanu-PF’s main opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change, is reported to be within a hair’s breadth of the ruling party, according to opinion polls, and might pull off an election victory.
Whatever the outcome, we believe there is change in the air in Zimbabwe. That is a good thing for all, even those south of the border.