President Robert Mugabe kick-started his election campaign on Thursday exuding confidence that Zimbabweans will vote to extend his 33-year rule when they go to the ballot box in three weeks’ time.
“On the 31st of this month the whole country will vote ZANU-PF back into government,” 89-year-old Mugabe said in an hour-long speech to about 6 000 supporters in Chiweshe, 120 km north of the capital Harare.
Unleashing his trademark populist bravado, Mugabe doubled down on nationalist rhetoric and hit out at his opponents in the Movement for Democratic Change, with whom he has been forced to share power for the last four years.
The elections will end that forced and often abusive marriage, but there are mounting fears that Mugabe’s supporters will not allow the vote to be free and fair and that the voter roll will be rigged.
Previous elections have been marred by bloodshed, to the extent that Mugabe’s opponent in 2008 was forced to withdraw despite winning the first round of voting.
“We are a party that has meaning to the people, a party that is naturally a people’s party, that addresses the needs that are felt by the people,” he said, in a performance seemingly aimed at brushing aside suggestions the octogenarian is no longer fit for the rigours of the campaign trail.
Thousands of supporters clad in green and yellow t-shirts with Mugabe’s potrait on them sang and danced as the veteran leader arrived to address them.
Mugabe who launched his election campaign last week calling for indigenisation and black empowerment said he believes the country must own its vast natural resources.
“As Zimbabweans we are owners of our natural resources and therefore our land belongs to us,” he said to cheers from his supporters. We believe in Africa for Africans, Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans.”
The veteran leader asked his supporters to come out in numbers to win the constituency in the area which was held by the member of parliament from his arch-rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
“We slept too much in 2008, we must win back this constituency this time around,” he said. “Let us sing the song of victory, we must sing that we will win. Backwards never, forward with winning elections, down with the MDC.”