In South Africa alone there are an estimated 1.6 million Zimbabweans. Many are of voting age, and located close enough to take the trip back to go and vote. While those who cannot vote – due to failure to register, or costs of transport – can and should still participate.
As Zimbabwe holds its decisive elections on 23 August 2023, there are important reflections to ponder on this event. One of which is what role the diaspora must play in the weeks leading up to the election.
Zimbabweans themselves can bring about the democratic change they want to bring prosperity back to their country, which was once known as the breadbasket of Africa.
The moment of truth is now – this is a moment for Zimbabweans in the diaspora all over the world to reflect on their consciousness and patriotism and to get involved in this election. In South Africa alone there are an estimated 1.6 million Zimbabweans, and many of those are people of voting age, and located close enough to take the trip back to go and vote.
The narrow outcomes of the 2018 elections show that the diaspora who are registered voters can make a difference if they take the time to go and vote on 23 August. The final results of 2018 showed that Nelson Chamisa had 2.15 million votes, while Emmerson Mnangagwa obtained 2.46 million votes – this is a narrow margin of victory that is dwarfed by the number of people who make the trip to Zimbabwe in the December holidays.
It is understandable that there is scepticism by many about whether this will be a free and fair election. Job Sikhala, a prominent opposition leader, is still under arrest, Saviour Kasukuwere has been blocked from contesting the election, and opposition party candidates have been disqualified in Bulawayo.
Zimbabweans in the diaspora also do not trust the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s ability to conduct free, credible, and fair elections, and there is a reasonable apprehension of violence and intimidation from Zanu-PF hooligans, who are always ready to unleash their shenanigans.
These concerns are legitimate, however this is not an excuse for the diaspora not to go home and vote. The political terrain in Africa is not perfect, however an overwhelming voter turnout is difficult to manipulate.
Even in the complicated electoral environment, Morgan Tsvangirai was able to win the 2008 election. This year’s elections have a lot in common with the 2008 political climate and there is a real opportunity for a democratic transition if the people turn out for Citizens for Change Coalition (CCC) led by Nelson Chamisa – they are the only serious contender with the capacity to bring together the opposition, and citizens and community organisations to challenge Zanu-PF.
Those who are in the diaspora and cannot vote due to failure to register, or costs of transport, can and should still participate. They can accomplish that by ensuring that the polling stations are fully mapped and have polling officers.
The Pachedu citizen initiative is already tracking and compiling polling station data. They are providing opportunities for people to adopt polling stations and contribute funds, to make sure that the election result is fairly and transparently recorded. The diaspora can still play a role in the mobilisation of urban and rural communities, using their diaspora remittances.
Let’s campaign hard in rural areas
In order to capture the big rural constituency of Zanu-PF, the CCC must campaign hard in rural areas and not only focus on urban areas such as Bulawayo and Harare. To do that they will need resources. The rural areas rely heavily on the government due to farming and agricultural activities, ie seeds, irrigation and fertilisers, which are provided by the government under the ruling Zanu-PF. The counter advantage of CCC is the diaspora who can donate, mobilise and critically – go back home and vote.
The significance of these elections has also attracted international community attention, with the European Union sending an election observer mission. There will also be observer missions from the AU, SADC, and the Commonwealth. I hope these observer missions can ensure that the elections are run peacefully and credibly, and are free and fair. Moreover, that they comply with national, regional, continental and international norms and standards.
There are regional instruments that will be utilised to protect the electoral environment, instruments such as the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. Zimbabwe signed this charter in 2018.
All Zimbabweans should understand that their vote still matters and that they have their destiny in their own hands in bringing about much-needed change in their country. And ultimately decide who will lead them for the next five years. They should not just focus on the challenges and surrender.
The diaspora plays a significant role in this regard, and with their vote they must heed the noble and bold call of patriotism and do their civic national duty for their country, and go out to vote for change. No one will bring change other than themselves through the democratic process of the ballot box.
By Stevens Mokgalapa
Stevens Mokgalapa is Build One South Africa’s (BOSA) Head of International Relations and former mayor of Tshwane