FORMER President Robert Mugabge stole the limelight when he turned up to cast his ballot in Highfield, Harare, with hundreds of opposition and his former Zanu PF supporters cheering him while across town, precisely 177km away in Kwekwe, his successor President Emmerson Mnangagwa received a lukewarm reception.
Mnangagwa’s closest rival in yesterday’s polls, Nelson Chamisa (MDC Alliance) also received a standing ovation when he reported at a polling station in Kuwadzana East constituency to vote.
Chamisa cast his vote at Kuwadzana 2 Primary School in Harare amid cheers from a crowd that abandoned the queue just to get a glimpse of the 40-year-old presidential aspirant who could bring Zanu PF’s near 38-year-rule to a dramatic end this week.
The hugely partisan crowd chanted “Chamisa, Chamisa or tshisa, tshisa, tshisa.”
Chamisa lapped it all up in his stride.
“It’s a great moment for Zimbabwe. We hope that in the rural areas the ballot that has been used is an appropriate one. We have no doubt that if the ballot being used is a genuine one and not a fake one, then victory is certain for the people. It is assured,” Chamisa said amid rapturous cheers.
“The people have spoken; the people are speaking and it’s clear that the vote is a vote for victory.”
By contrast, 75-year-old Mnangagwa walked into Sherwood Primary School in the Midlands city of Kwekwe to an eerily quiet atmosphere probably to emphasise his withdrawn demeanour.
There was no reception party and the Zanu PF leader walked away after a brief chat with journalists.
On the other hand, Mugabe’s appearance in Highfield alongside his wife Grace and daughter Bona Chikore sent most of those waiting to vote into a frenzy, chanting “Gushungo, Gushungo” in reference to the former President’s totem.
Mugabe, who was toppled from power in November last year through a military coup that ushered in Mnangagwa, has traditionally voted in Highfield since 1980.
“We miss him. I last saw him ages ago,” 22-year-old Everjoy Tafirei said. Mugabe stepped down after 37 years in power.
“I just want to see him face to face, even shake his hand as someone I have supported all my life. I still feel like he is my hero,” 34-year-old Jacob Mucheche said.
It is the first time in nearly 40 years that Mugabe voted without his name on the ballot paper, a situation he described as “painful”. Struggling to walk, the 94-year-old Mugabe raised his fist to chanting supporters. Then he slowly made his way into the polling centre and had his finger inked, and was assisted by his wife into the booth.
Mugabe emerged after months of silence on Sunday to declare that he would not be voting for the ruling party he for long controlled.
He indicated that 40-year-old opposition leader Chamisa was the only candidate with a realistic chance to unseat Mnangagwa.