Zimbabwe’s president Mnangagwa courts white voters ahead of election
Emmerson Mnangagwa, the president of Zimbabwe, appealed to the country’s dwindling white population to help rebuild the country in an unprecedented bid to court minority voters ahead of a tightly contested presidential election.
Mr Mnangagwa, whose ruling ZANU-PF party was responsible for the often violent eviction of thousands of white farmers in the early 2000s, promised a return to “rule of law” at a hurriedly arranged meeting with white voters in Harare on Saturday.
“Come and help us. We used to do horticulture … we must get back to it and become a breadbasket country again,” he told about 250 people who responded to the invitation to meet at Harare’s Borrowdale racecourse.
He said the "land reform" programme “collapsed” the country – the first time that a senior Zimbabwean government official has acknowledged the havoc that Robert Mugabe’s “land reform” wreaked on the country’s economy.
More then 4,000 white farmers were stripped of about 17 million acres of highly developed land during seizures that began in 2000. Many of the farmers, most of whom are now in their late 60’s and 70’s, left the country and few want to return to Zimbabwe.
Evicted farmers are entitled to compensation under the Zimbabwean constitution and Mr Mnangagwa made an explicit promise to pay it when he came to power in November, but the government does not currently have enough money to do so.
Saturday’s unprecedented attempt to court white voters comes ahead of a presidential election on July 30.
Mr Mnangagwa, 75, was sworn into office after a soft coup d’etat last November that ousted his former ally and boss, Robert Mugabe.
Tens of thousands celebrated in the streets at the end of Mr Mugabe’s rule and Mr Mnangagwa was expected to cruise to victory at the next elections after Morgan Tsvangirai, the long-serving leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic change, died of cancer in February.
But he now faces a serious challenge from Nelson Chamisa, Mr Tsvangirai’s young successor.
Mr Chamisa, a 40-year-old lawyer, has courted the youth vote in traditionally Zanu-controlled rural areas and is now trailing Mr Mnangagwa by just three per cent, according to polling data released on Friday.
Mr Mnangagwa’s appeal to white voters was announced by a WhatApp message inviting them to a meeting that began to circulate on Friday.
Mr Mnangagwa won some laughter when he criticised some of his own ZANU-PF colleagues for grabbing white-owned farms, then “mess it up … so leave it, then take another and mess that one up too, and then take a third. Ah, we will not allow that any more.”
“We are preparing 99-year leases which will be racially blind … and which can be renewable and tradable,” he said.
His speech was broadly welcomed by the Zimbabweans in attendance. "What a turn up for the books,’ said a white-haired lady grinning broadly, and wearing a Zanu PF cap and a Zanu PF scarf, which were being handed out by Mr Mnangagwa’s aides.
“It was great, for the first time in 38 years, to be spoken to like this. Maybe it is a new dawn,” said a former farmer, limping slightly.