PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA — Some of the 1.5 million Zimbabweans who live in neighboring South Africa say they are disappointed they will not be able to vote in Saturday’s constitutional referendum back home.
Zimbabweans gathered in Pretoria this week to hear visiting Zimbabwe Finance Minister Tendai Biti urge them to to vote in a March 16 constitutional referendum.
Many Zimbabweans in South Africa say they came to escape political persecution or to flee the collapsing economy under the long ruling ZANU-PF. But their ties to home remain strong.
Biti is secretary-general of the Movement for Democratic Change party (MDC)- part of the contentious 4-year old ruling coalition.
“It is the duty of every Zimbabwean who is here to go home and register to vote in their own wards, in their own constituencies,” he said.
Most Zimbabweans in South Africa say they support the MDC and its leader, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
The party’s South Africa chairman, Kwanele Moyo, says Zimbabweans here are eager to participate.
“Zimbabweans in the diaspora, especially in South Africa, they have suffered enough. The fact that they have suffered enough, that, on its own, is going to push them to make sacrifices that they go back to vote [at] home,” Moyo stated.
For many, going home just to vote is not financially possible. There are also fears of violence which marred the last election in 2008 - much of it aimed at MDC supporters.
But former MDC activist Felicia Anthonio says she is willing to take the risk.
“I have to go back and vote, so that Zimbabwe must come back on its feet again,” she explained.
Others, like 52-year-old Romeo Mare, wish they could vote in South Africa. “I thought they were going to allow us to vote like what happened in Kenya," he noted.
"In Kenya, they were allowed to vote in Africa, the diaspora people in Africa, they were allowed to vote while in their diaspora countries. I’m disappointed.”
Mare says his disability and poverty will keep him away from the polls, but like his countrymen, he says he has boundless hope that he can one day return home.