'He's our George Washington': Robert Mugabe's supporters confident of victory in Zimbabwe election as fraud allegations emerge

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

But 89-year-old authoritarian leader promises to concede if he is beaten by coalition partner Morgan Tsvangirai

Bindura, Zimbabwe

“Mugabe will win!” exclaims the gangly, gap-toothed young man in a fake Manchester United shirt emerging from a polling station in Bindura, one of the Zimbabwe patriarch's strongholds. And then, shocked by the volume of his own enthusiasm for the ageing president, he anxiously looks around to see if anyone else is in earshot, before wordlessly scampering down the dusty road. Such is Zimbabwe's election: even Robert Mugabe's own supporters, in fiercely loyal areas, are nervous about parading their politics.

Every election in Zimbabwe over the past decade has been tense, marred by accusations of blatant vote rigging, intimidation, and bloodshed. Today's presidential and parliamentary polls largely appeared to be violence-free, although Mugabe's opponents - and foreign observers - were still complaining of widespread cheating by the president's henchmen. Mugabe's main rival, prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai, said he was confident of victory while casting his vote, despite various electoral manipulations.

Mr Mugabe, who rejects past and present charges from critics of vote-fixing and intimidation by his ZANU-PF party supporters, has said he will concede if defeated.

“I'm sure people will vote freely and fairly,” he told reporters after casting his ballot in a school in Harare's Highfields township. “There's no pressure being exerted on anyone.”

While Mugabe has become something of a pariah in the west for his authoritarian leadership style and targeting of political opponents, in the heartland of his support he is as popular as ever.

Bindura is 85km north of Zimbabwe's capital Harare. The town is home to some of Mugabe's most fervent followers, and in March hosted the president's lavish 89th birthday party, said to cost some £400,000. It is split between farming - mainly cotton and maize - and mining for gold and copper. As a longtime recipient of Mugabe's largesse and protection, Bindura could lose its privileges if the president fails in his re-election bid.

Not that Mugabe's supporters will admit the prospect of defeat. As the only leader Zimbabwe has known in its 33 year as an independent nation, he can still inspires zeal. “He is the father of our nation, our George Washington,” says Justin, a fruit seller. “He looks after us. No-one cares more about Zimbabwe than he does.”

Others pour scorn on Mr Tsvangirai, who trounced Mugabe in the first round of the 2008 poll but pulled out of the run-off when mounting violence left some 200 of his supporters dead. Mr Tsvangirai then agreed to lead a unity government between his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and Mugabe's ZANU-PF party. But many voters say his administration is corrupt, and Mr Tsvangirai's colourful love life has been a target of criticism. “Mugabe is the only one who can lead us,” says Emmerson, a truck driver. “Morgan had his chance as prime minister, but he has not succeeded. I think he has been more interested in women than in Zimbabwe.”

Not everyone in the region is so keen on Mugabe. In Mazowe, a town halfway between Bindura and Harare, there is more scepticism. “I think the MDC will win. It is time for a change,” says Brendan, an engineer in the local gold mine.

It is hard to gauge the extent of Mugabe's support as there are no reliable polls. Tellingly, election observers from Europe, the United States and the United Nations have been barred. But there are some 600 monitors from the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

In Bindura, observers have been effusive in praising the relatively peaceful conduct of the election. There was little violence in the run-up to the poll, while the day itself was characterised by the high turnout. One AU observer, Orji Uzor Kalu, from Nigeria, hailed what he called the “solemn, collected and calm queuing,” reflecting, “a commitment to the democratic process today, as opposed to past years.” Polls, which opened at 7am local time, were scheduled to close at 7pm, but the electoral commission extended it until midnight.

But the lack of violence does not imply that the vote is free and fair. NGOs have been vocal in condemning the vote. In June, the independent Research and Advocacy Unit said the electoral roll had been doctored to include around one million dead voters or people who have moved abroad, as well as over 100,000 people aged over 100 years old.

In a report last week, the International Crisis Group said there was little chance that the elections would be free and fair. “The voters roll is a shambles, security forces unreformed and the media grossly imbalanced,” it said. Transparency International warned that whatever the result, “A return to protracted political crisis, and possibly extensive violence, is likely.”

The MDC says Mugabe's control of the state media, the courts and security forces mean he can manipulate the election without overt intimidation. Tsvangirai himself has already branded the vote as “a sham”, saying Mugabe has not just manipulated electoral rolls, but kept hundreds of thousands of eligible people from registering to vote.

Officially, the number of registered voters in Zimbabwe has increased to 6.2 million from 5.2 million in 2008, but the figures vary. Indeed, the province of Mashonaland Central, which gathers Bindura and other Mugabe-leaning districts, recorded the highest number of the new voters, with some 89,647 first time voters. But Bulawayo, traditionally hostile to Mugabe, recorded the lowest new voters, with only 3,583 registered since 2008.

As day wore on in Bindura, queues were still snaking outside the Chipadze High School, the Bindura Army School, the Agricultural College, and other polling stations. Part of the delay was due to officials daubing the little fingers of voters in ink, to prove they had cast their ballots. Those in line were still wary of expressing themselves too loudly, but nonetheless appeared relieved and proud as they emerged from the booths, waving their fingers to their friends, their democratic duty completed.

Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm actor was just 68
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices