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‘Too quiet,’ say Zim Jews on eve of elections



“I don’t know why, but I have a sinking feeling that there’s going to be some sort of uproar if the results don’t go as planned,” says a young mother and member of the Harare Jewish community in Zimbabwe. “Maybe because it’s so quiet that I have that feeling … like the lull before the storm.” She was speaking to the SA Jewish Report on the eve of the Zimbabwean elections on 23 August.

The SA Jewish Report agreed to withhold her name and that of others in light of Zimbabwe’s new law banning criticism of the government, which President Emmerson Mnangagwa signed into law in mid-July. Violators run the risk of up to 20 years in prison.

“Security is a concern now. We all hope that once it’s all over, we’ll carry on as normal,” says a Jewish community leader. “Will the losing side accept the results? How will it react, and when will it settle down? However, nothing specifically concerns the Jewish community.” He planned to vote on election day.

Zimbabweans voted to elect councillors, members of parliament, and a president. If there was no outright winner in the presidential contest, a run-off would be held six weeks later. The contest is likely to be between presidential incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa from the governing Zanu-PF party, and opposition leader Nelson Chamisa from the Citizen’s Coalition for Change. Analysts expect a tense election amid entrenched poverty, high cost of living, inflation, power cuts, and other shortages.

“In all honesty, it doesn’t even feel like there is an election tomorrow,” the young mother said. “I’m sure those in the low density and rural areas are feeling it a lot more than we are, but it’s all quiet here, and we don’t get the feeling that many are even interested this time round. I feel like everyone is so bored with the same dialogue yet again. The millions of posters for all parties that litter the walls and lampposts look and feel as deflated as most of us. The old question, ‘Why bother?’ is on so many people’s lips.

“People are hungry, and empty promises don’t feed families,” she says. “The opposition should win – it has the support, but Zanu-PF has the intimidation. According to everyone you ask, it’s all rigged already. They’ve made stupid rules like you have to wear a mask to vote, so you turn up to vote and you’ll be turned away.”

A Jewish woman who lives near Victoria Falls says, “I’m still here. I reckon I’ll be the last to turn the lights out! Elections in Zimbabwe seem to have been met mostly with resignation about the inevitable likelihood of the same old, same old. Where we are is incredibly peaceful, but that’s also normal. I’ve heard of some instances of intimidation and brutality in other rural areas, but to be honest, in our environment, we’re unlikely to hear or see anything unless we read about it in the media. We probably don’t understand or appreciate the fear that many others may have to contend with.

“There has also been quite a bit in our media about alleged vote rigging. Our ruling party usually wins the rural vote – the largest element of our population – as they tend to vote only for peace and continuation of life as they know it. The opposition put more effort into the rural vote in these elections, so it will be interesting to see if it will make any difference this time.

“The majority of Zimbabweans are under the age of 40, and there was low registration turnout among the youth – apathetic after years of being brow beaten,” she says. “My feeling is that the ruling party will win, but not with a vast majority and possibly with run-off elections. At the very best, we could hope for a government of national unity and undoubtedly, there will be disputes and some skirmishes post-election results, but I don’t envision major violence. I certainly don’t fear for my own safety where I live.” She cannot vote because she is out of the country at the moment.

A young Jewish entrepreneur who recently moved to Zimbabwe says, “I’m not overly concerned about violence, but there is a chance. I don’t think there’s any chance of change in these elections. The general feeling is that it’s just a formality.” He’s also unable to vote because he is travelling.

“They are saying the results will start filtering out on Friday [25 August], predicting the presidential votes will be out Monday [28 August],” says the young mother. She says violence might erupt at that point, or earlier if the opposition sees blatant vote rigging. She’s unable to vote as she is no longer living in her hometown and cannot travel there as she has a newborn baby.

However, she thinks the aging Jewish community of about 100 people across Zimbabwe will be safe. “I can’t see why there would be any issues unless they are politically involved. The small community left is here to stay, no matter what. I don’t believe there are any security risks [for the Jewish community] relating to these elections.”

Meanwhile, community members continue to go about their daily lives, keeping Yiddishkeit alive in spite of the small numbers. “In Harare, we hold Saturday morning shul services and lately, we have had fairly regular minyanim,” says the community leader. “There are a section of people who attend shul more regularly – mostly people above 60 years of age – and another section who don’t. The kiddush brachot following the Shabbat services are a regular social gathering for people attending services.

“I would estimate that at any one time we have in total between 40 to 50 Jewish people in Harare. I cannot speak for Bulawayo. People have been going about their normal daily lives, notwithstanding the very significant increase in prices in the past three months. Overall, there has been no significant change in the community.”

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1 Comment

  1. Gary Selikow

    August 24, 2023 at 1:12 pm

    It is clear that if the elections were free and fair Nelson Chamisa and the CCC would win hands down. But obviously it will be rigged to give ZANU PF a stolen victory, with support from Ramaphosa’s regime.

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