31 July 2013

Zimbabweans Living in Germany Hopeful of Change After Crucial Election

As Zimbabweans head to the polls to elect a new president, their compatriots in Germany are watching closely. DW has spoken to some of them about how they feel about the future of their homeland.

Eddson Chakuma, a 39-year-old trade unionist, fled persecution in Zimbabwe and has been living in Germany for little over a year now.

In 2011, Chakuma was arrested when he helped organize a gathering for the United Food and Allied Workers Union in Harare. It was there, Chakuma said, that the group screened and then debated a video about the political uprisings that were taking place at the time in a number of Middle Eastern and North African countries.

An undercover police officer attending the gathering alerted authorities and before the event was over police stormed the building and arrested all 45 people there, including eight or nine women, Chakuma told DW.

"We were arrested, convicted and sentenced to two years imprisonment," Chakuma said. Following their arrest, five of the event's organizers were charged with treason. The men endured weeks of torture in solitary confinement before their sentences were eventually suspended and fines were imposed. Chakuma lost his job on his release.

The Hamburg Foundation for Politically Persecuted People (Hamburger Stiftung für politisch Verfolgte) came to his assistance and in 2012 paid for him to move to Germany.

Voice silenced

Chakuma cannot vote in Wednesday's (31.08.2013) parliamentary and presidential elections in Zimbabwe. He is hopeful, though, that his family and friends - whom he was forced to leave behind - will cast their ballots and that there will be a change of government.

Zimbabweans can choose between current president, 89-year-old Robert Mugabe and the country's prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai. Both candidates have been locked in a power-sharing tussle since the outcome of the 2008 election when Mugabe refused to accept defeat.

"I believe Robert Mugabe is realizing that people are looking at Zimbabwe at the moment," Chakuma says, referring to the attention the July 31elections are receiving from international observers who question whether the appropriate measures have been taken to ensure the elections will be free and fair.

The failure to release the voters' roll in line with constitutional requirements ahead of the election is, he believes, a blatant attempt to fix the result. "There might be rigging which is taking place since they believe that violence cannot work," Chukama said.

Constitutional requirements

The Zimbabwean Electoral Commission's (ZEC) failure to make public both an electronic and hard-copy version of the electoral roll 48-hours prior to the ballot to allow for each political party to scrutinize the list for irregularities brings the legitimacy of the vote into question.

ZEC released a printed version of the roll less than 30 hours before the polls were set to open across the country. No electronic copy was circulated. Critics condemn the move, saying the delayed release is unconstitutional and gives current President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party an undue advantage at the election booth.

"We should have received the voters' roll three or four weeks before the elections, but we only received it two days before," Ernest Mudzengi, a political analyst and former National Director of the Zimbabwean Constitutional Assembly told DW.

Post-election priorities

With news coming from family and friends back home and via an array of local and international media outlets covering the election, Zimbabweans living across Germany are able to stay abreast of the latest election news.

Michelle Fisher, a 64-year-old Zimbabwean who has called Germany home for the past 40 years, is critical of the election process and the irregularities being reported. "I don't think ZANU-PF can be trusted." Fisher elaborated, saying she feels Mugabe will do what he can to stay in power.

ZEC has until August 5 to announce the results of the ballot. Calep Munemo, a 55-year-old tool-maker who has lived in the German city of Hannover for the past two decades, says he is excited to find out the outcome of the election. A change of government, he believes, will improve the living standards of Zimbabweans.

Eddson Chakuma shares his feelings: "I would like to see economic change, respect for human rights, freedom for citizens to express themselves and reform in the security sector," he told DW, adding that transparency in the resource sector is also necessary.

For Michelle Fisher, a change of government would bring about social and economic improvements: "I think there are four big problems that have to be tackled in Zimbabwe - poverty, education, clean water and health."

Zimbabwean diaspora

It's not just Zimbabweans at home who are likely to experience change, should a new government be voted into power. Many Zimbabweans living in Germany send weekly monetary contributions to family and friends because the cost of living there has sky-rocketed in recent years.

"These last few years we had to supplement food for our people in Zimbabwe and if they can feed themselves like before, that would lessen the burden on us," Caleb Munemo said. Life would be better for those still in Zimbabwe if it was like before, a reference to a time when the country's inflation was on a par with other developed countries and employment was easy to come by.

The outcome of the Zimbabwean elections could have even greater personal consequences for Chakuma. He told DW that if things in the country changed he would like to return to his homeland. "If the opposition wins, my chances of going back to Zimbabwe will be very high, as the environment would be conducive for me to go and contribute."

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