'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.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballStriker in talks over £17m move from Manchester United
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
News
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
boksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Life and Style
tech

Apple agrees deal with Visa on contactless payments

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

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Technical Software Consultant (Excel, VBA, SQL, JAVA, Oracle)

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: You will not be expected to hav...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor