Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF courts white farmers for general election

President reaches out to his party’s old enemies for what is predicted to be close race

Zimbabwean president Emmerson Mnangagwa shakes hands after addressing a meeting attended by white farmers and business people. Photograph: Wilfred Kajese/AFP/Getty Images

Zimbabwean president Emmerson Mnangagwa shakes hands after addressing a meeting attended by white farmers and business people. Photograph: Wilfred Kajese/AFP/Getty Images

 

Zimbabwe’s ruling party, Zanu-PF, is trying to rally support from white communities it has oppressed for nearly two decades ahead of this month’s general election, which is shaping up to be a close contest.

Over the weekend president Emmerson Mnangagwa told white farmers in the capital, Harare, that the era of seizing white-owned land, instigated by his 94-year-old predecessor Robert Mugabe, was over.

“We should cease to talk about who owns the farm in terms of colour,” he told the gathering of about 200 people. “It is criminal talking about that. A farmer, a black farmer, a white farmer, is a Zimbabwean farmer.”

White Zimbabweans have traditionally backed the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) since the main opposition party came into existence in 1999, a stance that has led them to being harshly treated by Mr Mugabe’s regime.

From 2000 until the former dictator was ousted from power last November, thousands of white commercial farmers were violently evicted from their estates under a controversial land reform policy that eventually collapsed the agricultural sector.

It has been estimated that the number of white commercial farmers operating in the country went from above 4,000 to a few hundred between 2000 and 2017. But pictures posted to social media platforms on Sunday of Mr Mnangagwa’s address to the largely white audience show many in attendance draped in scarves and baseball caps emblazoned with the Zanu-PF logo.

Racially blind

Mr Mnangagwa (75) told his audience that his Zanu PF-led government was “racially blind” and needed the expertise of everyone in the country to kick-start its economy. “We must build the Zimbabwe we want. We want to restore the status of Zimbabwe as a food basket of the region,” he said.

The decision by Mr Mnangagwa to reach out to his party’s traditional enemies ahead of the July 30th poll came a day after a new survey showed the race for the presidency between the Zanu-PF leader and his main rival, Nelson Chamisa, is close.

Mr Chamisa is the presidential candidate for an alliance of opposition parties led by the MDC, and his charisma and enthusiasm appear to be rubbing off on voters, if research company Afrobarometer’s data is accurate.

It asked 2,400 adults across the country between June 25th and July 6th who they wanted for president, and found that 40 per cent backed Mr Mnagagwa while 37 per cent supported Mr Chamisa.

This is a significant reduction in the 11-point gap the last survey put between the two candidates in May, and suggests neither will get enough votes on July 30th to secure outright victory in the presidential race.

If that scenario materialises, then a second round head-to-head vote between the top two candidates will take place.

Meanwhile, Mr Chamisa has described allegations recently in state-run media that he has offered former first lady Grace Mugabe the position of vice-president if he wins as “hogwash”. “The peddling of such lies is a clear indication that Zanu-PF is desperate,” he said.