Zimbabwe’s former leader Robert Mugabe has emerged from months of silence to tell reporters that “I will not vote for those who have illegally taken power” in Monday’s historic election.
HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe is speaking to the nation for the first time since stepping down from power in November and less than 24 hours before the country faces a historic vote — the first without him.
The 94-year-old Mugabe is speaking to reporters about the circumstances of his removal from power under military pressure and after a ruling party feud.
He also could endorse someone ahead of Monday’s election in which his former deputy, President Emmerson Mnangagawa, faces a 40-year-old lawyer and pastor, Nelson Chamisa.
Many in Zimbabwe knew no other leader but Mugabe, who led the country for 37 years and since independence from white minority rule in 1980. What began with optimism crumbled into repression, alleged vote-rigging, intimidation of the opposition, violent land seizures from white farmers and years of international sanctions.
The country hopes that a credible vote on Monday could get those sanctions lifted and bring badly needed investment for a collapsed economy. Mnangagwa, a former Mugabe confidante, has tried to recast himself as a voice for reform, inviting back Western dozens of election observers and pledging a free and fair vote.
“I have during all this time liked our return to conditionality, our return to legality, an environment in which our people are free,” Mugabe tells reporters.
But he blames “evil and malicious characters” for his removal from power, which was met with a joyous outpouring in the capital, Harare, by thousands. He says he resigned to avoid “bloodshed.”
While Mugabe, who has largely remained quiet in his Harare home since leaving power, is speaking of the past, Zimbabweans are already impatient for the future — and Monday’s vote.