Voters in Zimbabwe are queuing to cast their ballots in the first general election since the ousting of long-time president Robert Mugabe – and faith has a huge role to play in the future of a largely Christian country, according to Christian Aid’s country manager there.
Mugabe, a leader of the struggle against white rule, oversaw decades of political repression and the economic collapse of a once-prosperous country. He was removed from office after one of today’s presidential candidates, Emmerson Mnangagwa, overthrew him with the help of the military.
Mnangagwa heads the ruling Zanu-PF party and held office under Mugabe. His main opponent Nelson Chamisa – a pastor who uses the hashtag #GodIsInIt – leads the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The MDC is popular in the cities, while Zanu-PF’s electoral heartland is the countryside.
According to Christian Aid’s country manager Nicholas Shamano: ‘Zimbabwe is largely a Christian country and a large population (about 80 per cent) go to church at least once a month. Faith leaders are really respected and their role is also to help to inform or influence policy direction, and to help to hold leadership to account for their actions and for the decisions being made.
‘At Christian Aid we do believe that there is space and scope for faith leaders to influence society, and they have that pulling power to do so. Faith leaders stand on a high moral ground, so when they call for certain issues that affect people to be addressed, somebody is bound to listen. They are not political opponents in such instances, and they are viewed as objective, so it really helps.’
He said that so far the voting had been ‘largely calm but expectant’, though there were fears about the transparency of the process. ‘The major concern is just around the process being transparent, credible, and people being able to freely exercise their democratic rights, so that whatever comes out of the election is respected: then maybe the country can move forward,’ he said. ‘That’s basically what’s people are looking for in the short term.’
Chamisa has accused his rival Mnanagagwa, who has a slight lead, of vote-rigging.
Shamano said Christian Aid partners like the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) have been ‘influencing the agenda beyond the elections, on issues around national peace and reconciliation, and peacebuilding and addressing the socio-economic situation’.
‘For instance, the economy and infrastructure are big issues for the Zimbabwean context. Unemployment is high, there are cash shortages, and investment is quite low at the moment. We are facing issues relating to corporate governance, basic infrastructure, the capacity of institutions to deliver major services: these are some of the major gaps that people in Zimbabwe would want to see being addressed.’