Zimbabwe’s president on Saturday tried to rally the country’s white minority voters, who traditionally back the opposition, as the race in this month’s historic election becomes too close to call.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa told the gathering of a few hundred people in the capital, Harare, that the era of land seizures from white farmers is over. The deeply unpopular, often violent land grabs under former leader Robert Mugabe contributed to the economic collapse of the once-prosperous southern African nation.
Just 3 percentage points now separate former Mugabe deputy Mnangagwa and leading opposition challenger Nelson Chamisa, according to a new survey by the Afrobarometer research group. It surveyed 2,400 voters across the country between June 25 and July 6.
Campaigning ahead of the July 30 vote, the first without Mugabe since independence in 1980 from white minority rule, has been largely peaceful but the opposition has expressed concern about possible fraud and the role of the military, which pressured Mugabe to resign in November.
The 75-year-old Mnangagwa has repeatedly vowed to hold a credible election after past votes under Mugabe were marked by alleged violence and intimidation. While Mugabe scorned Western election observers, Mnangagwa has welcomed them for the first time in almost 20 years.
Those observers have raised concerns similar to the opposition’s, and the 40-year-old Chamisa has said the opposition will not allow elections to go ahead if the vote is not free and fair.
Under Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s white population fell to around 30,000 today. Mnangagwa on Saturday sought to reassure those who remained.
“If you were born here, you were born here, you are a citizen, you have the same documentation like everybody else,” he said. “There is no distinction, if it is there, it is dead.”
Some attending the rally said Mugabe’s departure had given them optimism.
“We lived under oppression for many years and we were not recognized as part of Zimbabwe,” said Wayne Worswick, a tobacco farmer. “And we want to rebuild Zimbabwe brick by brick with the new dispensation and make Zimbabwe the food basket of Africa again.”