Harare — A PEACEFUL atmosphere is prevailing ahead of watershed elections scheduled for Zimbabwe at the end of this month.
Just less than three weeks before the eagerly-anticipated exercise, supporters of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and opposition parties have freely mingled within their communities.
This is in stark contrast to the violence that characterised previous polls when Robert Mugabe was still the president of the Southern African country. Mugabe's administration was also accused of electoral fraud.
"Such an atmosphere where opposition and ruling party activists share jokes, laugh and drink beer together has never prevailed during election time in Mugabe's era," said Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) activist, Arnold Mukwazhe, in Harare.
He noted Mugabe used to lambast MDC and other opposition activists as Western-sponsored puppets.
"This is a new dawn. We would love to see this democracy maturing even after the July 30 polls," Mukwazhe said.
Lovemore Kundai, a ZANU-PF activist also in Harare, welcomed the shift to peace after years of violence mainly targeting the MDC.
"I was not involved in violent acts but my colleagues in ZANU PF never wished to see opposition, mainly MDC treated as Zimbabwean citizens," said Kundai.
"MDC was always treated with great suspicion for being a Western-sponsored party, but today, here we are, eating and drinking beer together plus sharing jokes."
The election is again set to be a two-horse race between MDC and ZANU-PF.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa (75) faces a stiff challenge from MDC's Nelson Chamisa (40).
Mnangagwa, upon succeeding Mugabe after a military coup last November, called for unity among political rivals to rebuild the nation.
Last month, Zimbabwe's political parties committed to respect a Code of Conduct for the elections.
At the ceremony held in Harare under the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC), the parties announced their commitment to prevent acts of violence, fraud and intimidation, as well as a range of offences that marred previous elections.