Most Zimbabweans have only ever known one president: Robert Mugabe. But on July 30, a new man will represent Zimbabwe’s ruling party on the ballot for the first time in 38 years. Emmerson Mnangagwa, who went from being Mugabe’s right-hand man to his unseater, has taken the reins. Although he’s a party stalwart, Mnangagwa, 75, has cast himself as a beacon of change. And after decades of authoritarian rule that isolated Zimbabwe, he is promising to end the political violence and intimidation that characterized Mugabe-era elections. International observers are in Zimbabwe for the first time in decades. But accounts from opposition supporters in this rural constituency, 50 miles from the capital city of Harare, show how the ruling party’s intimidation and patronage apparatus is still very much intact.
While observers have avoided saying outright that the campaign season has not been “free and fair,” human rights organizations and opposition groups are compiling an ever-growing number of reports of electoral malpractice, including death threats to opposition candidates, forced attendance at rallies and the distribution of government handouts to Mnangagwa supporters. (Only a small fraction — less than 50 reports — have indicated physical violence.)
Since mid-June, more than 500 reports have streamed in from all of Zimbabwe’s provinces, and nearly all were attributed to Mnangagwa’s party, ZANU-PF. A consortium of seven civil society organizations, operating together under the name We the People, has set up a call center to field and verify the reports.