Zimbabwe is holding a national poll Wednesday for some 6 million voters in the Southern African nation. But millions of Zimbabweans live outside of their country, according to UN estimates, and the majority are not fans of the current regime. The government has said it can’t afford to extend them overseas voting rights, though critics say that is an attempt to shut out the opposition. In the immigrant hub of Johannesburg, the opposition is helping Zimbabweans return home to vote.
The UN’s International Organization for Migration says some two to three million Zimbabweans live in South Africa.
Many say they fled because of the regime of President Robert Mugabe. Large numbers have settled in inner-city Johannesburg.
And many of them say they want in on the July 31 election and are prepared to risk a costly, long and possibly dangerous trip home.
Rights groups frequently accuse Mugabe’s security forces of intimidating and attacking opposition supporters.
Some of these voters say they are making the trip in the hopes their vote can kick Mugabe out of office after more than three decades in power.
Mugabe’s main challenger is long-time rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change. The two have run against each other for the last three elections, and were forced into a power-sharing coalition after the violent 2008 poll.
Opposition representatives in South Africa say their members have donated money to transport thousands of voters back to Zimbabwe to assist with that goal.
“What we normally do with our members who go back, we induct them in terms of how they should conduct themselves whilst they are in Zimbabwe," explained Khumbulani Moyo, a South Africa-based opposition leader, "and making sure that they don’t do what is not according to the laws of Zimbabwe. Their main objective is to go and cast their vote to make sure that there is a democratic change Zimbabwe.”
Opposition voter Lizwe Gwebu said he’s thrilled at the prospect of change.
“I’m very excited, I’m going back home to cast my vote on the 31st of July,” Gwebu said enthusiastically.
University of Johannesburg student Andrew Gotora has a Zimbabwean presidential scholarship.
“Obviously, at times you get worried that what if the current government doesn’t win the elections," Gotora admitted, "what will the future for us hold as the students since we signed the contract under the ZANU-PF government.”
No matter whom they vote for, these Zimbabweans living abroad say they want democracy, even if they have to travel long distances to get it.