On eve of Zimbabwe election, ousted leader Mugabe turns on the ruling party he founded

Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe addresses media in Harare on July 29, 2018, during a surprise press conference on the eve of the country's first election since he was ousted last year.
(Jekesai Njikizana / AFP/Getty Images)

Hours before millions of Zimbabweans headed to the polls, former President Robert Mugabe slammed the ruling party he headed for nearly 40 years, saying opposition leader Nelson Chamisa was the only viable presidential candidate in Monday’s vote.

Mugabe, who was forced by the military to resign in November to make way for his former ally and current President Emmerson Mnangagwa, told reporters on Sunday that Zimbabwe’s new government was unconstitutional and undemocratic.

“I cannot vote for those who have tormented me,” Mugabe said, speaking beneath a pagoda on his sprawling private estate in a lush suburb of the capital, Harare. Zimbabweans “have not been free since that day when tanks rolled through and across the country,” he said.


The irony of Mugabe complaining about a lack of democracy was not lost on many Zimbabweans, who endured years of political intimidation and violence on his watch. Supporters of both main political parties agree that this election – the first in which Mugabe is not on the ballot -- has felt freer than any they can remember.

Mnangagwa, 75, and Chamisa, 40, are set for what appears to be a tight race Monday to lead Zimbabwe out of its international isolation and years-long economic slump.

While the run-up to the vote has been largely peaceful, rights groups have warned about reports of voter intimidation outside of the cities, and Chamisa has accused the governing ZANU-PF party of trying to rig the polls.

Looking frail, the 94-year-old Mugabe spoke slowly but lucidly for nearly two hours on Sunday afternoon, intermittently being adjusted in a green leather chair by an assistant or told by his wife, Grace Mugabe, to “speak up.”

The rise and fall of Zimbabwe’s longtime leader Robert Mugabe »


Mugabe, who was expelled from the party he founded as well as from office, complained that ZANU-PF had treated him badly since his ouster, leaving him isolated inside his walled compound and harassing his supporters and relatives.

He said his house, a vast structure known as “Blue Roof” for its Chinese-style blue tile roof, was falling apart, and bemoaned that the government had promised him a pension totaling only $467,000.

Though Mugabe’s resignation was celebrated widely in November, the former president still has a strong support base in parts of the country, particularly rural areas.

Chamisa’s response to Mugabe’s support on Sunday was guarded.

“Who am I to deny that extra vote that will make the fundamental win that we want?” the young lawyer said at a press conference. “It is not my duty as a candidate to go and choose voters.

Mnangagwa released a video statement Sunday evening denouncing what he characterized as a “deal” between Mugabe and Chamisa.

“Now that it is clear to all that Chamisa has forged a deal with Mugabe, we can no longer believe that his intentions are to transform Zimbabwe and rebuild our nation,” he said. “The choice is clear: You either vote for Mugabe under the guise of Chamisa, or you vote for a new Zimbabwe under my leadership and ZANU-PF.”


Mahr is a special correspondent.


3:20 p.m.: This article has been updated with a statement from Mnangagwa.

This article was originally posted at 12:20 p.m.