Only one woman will be among the 12 candidates on the presidential ballot paper during Zimbabwe’s elections on 23 August.
However, opinion polls and analysts have already pegged the elections as a two-horse race between the incumbent, Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zanu PF, and his biggest rival, the Citizens Coalition for Change’s Nelson Chamisa.
Elisabeth Valerio, 49, of the United Zimbabwe Alliance (UZA) will battle it out against 11 men.
She was a last-minute addition after she took the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to court for disqualifying her on the basis of allegations that she had not paid the US$20 000 (about R360 000) nomination fees on time.
It emerged that she paid the fees but that the payment didn’t go through because of the ZEC’s bank challenges.
News24 caught up with Valerio, who runs a tight ship and is crisscrossing the country trying to lure voters.
News24: What is your main campaign message for the presidency?
Valerio: My main campaign message for the presidency is centred on the critical aspects of our party manifesto: accountability, advancement, dignity, and stability.
I believe in a Zimbabwe that embraces diversity and ensures equal opportunities for all its citizens.
We want a good life for all Zimbabweans. We will foster sustainable economic development.
We are already creating jobs, and we will address social inequalities. Additionally, I aim to prioritise the establishment of a fair and transparent justice system that upholds the rule of law.
News24: What’s your biggest challenge as you move ahead in the campaign?
Valerio: It’s the short amount of time remaining.
A lot of time was wasted in court, appealing for the right to contest.
This was an unnecessary distraction that prevented us from engaging with the electorate.
It was great to be in #Harare this weekend for our nationwide “Meet the UZA Candidates” campaign. I was also with our teams putting up the new UZA Presidential posters. We are 3 weeks away from the August 23rd elections with a lot of ground to cover. #ZimElection2023 #Valerio2023 pic.twitter.com/KNP9zuPNuA
— Elisabeth Valerio (@PresValerio) July 31, 2023
I am also always having to overcome scepticism while working to build the trust of the citizens since so many potential voters have been disappointed by the current and past politicians.
News24: From your interactions with the electorate, what are they saying they want from the next government?
Valerio: From my interactions with the electorate, I have found that people want a government that prioritises their basic needs and well-being.
They no longer want leaders who are selfish and who only look out for themselves or who exploit Zimbabwe for their own benefit.
They also want opportunities to be afforded to them.
They want access to life’s basics, the things that most people take for granted in other countries – like clean water, decent housing and jobs.
Zimbabweans want a government that listens to the people and puts the people’s interests first.
News24: How many parliamentary candidates do you have, and what are their challenges?
Valerio: We initially had 112 candidates ready to participate on the ballot in this election.
Of those, 73% were rejected by ZEC during the election court nomination process.
UZA now has only 31 parliamentary candidates.
We have had to file appeals for 29 of the candidates who had already paid their nomination fees, and to date, all 29 of the High Court appeals for our parliamentary candidates have been dismissed.
Another challenge was a case brought against our vice president, Frank Mhlanga, who was removed from the ballot in Bulawayo province on the basis of a claim that he registered too late in the afternoon on the day of nomination court.
Yet, he arrived at the court at 09:30.
He had to file an appeal with the High Court and then the Supreme Court and was only added back on the ballot 20 days before election day (along with the CCC 12).
The nomination court process was highly inefficient.
Many of our candidates waited long hours to be processed and ZEC’s payment processing systems as well as their policies on proof of payments were not fair and were a huge hindrance to participation in the electoral process.
Other challenges our candidates face include a lack of access to resources and the massive political polarisation in Zimbabwe.
We are working closely with our candidates to provide support where we can and to address these challenges.
News24: Of what importance is this year’s general elections?
Valerio: I believe this year’s election is extremely important and will determine what the future of our country will be.
Foreigners are exploiting our natural resources at a far greater pace than Zimbabwe has ever seen before.
This does not appear to be translating to any real benefit for the ordinary man, woman and child in Zimbabwe.
If we do not stop the exploitation of our country’s resources, very little will remain for future generations. – News24