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Zimbabwe Exiles in Britain Watch Election Campaign From Afar

Exile groups and non-governmental organizations estimate that there are between half a million and a million Zimbabwean's living in Britain. Many fled their home country as political and economic refugees when President Robert Mugabe introduced controversial land reforms in 2000. The U.N.'s Human Development Index ranks Zimbabwe 151st out of 175 countries, one of the poorest and most deprived. And some of the expatriates living in Britain have mobilized ahead of the African country's presidential and general elections on March 29. Catherine Drew reports from London on the exile community's expectations.

This vigil is a fixture in central London every Saturday. For more than five years, Zimbabweans have gathered outside their country's High Commission. They listen to speeches and hand out leaflets, and keep their spirits up as a community of expatriates.

But most here are not optimistic about Saturday's [March 29] elections back home. With President Mugabe running for a sixth term, few believe the vote will be free and fair.

"Mugabe is still in control of things from registration of voters down to the election process and even the announcement of who has won and who has not,” says Ephraim Tapa, who is a co-founder of the vigil. “It is all for him to do, so there is no hope. There is nothing for us here.”

With the government's restrictions on the media and political opposition in place in Zimbabwe, journalists work here.

Since 2001, they have broadcast on SW Radio Africa live into Zimbabwe from London for two hours every day.

The station has no precise count of listeners, but it reports calls from all over the country and uses multiple frequencies to avoid jamming by the Zimbabwean authorities.

SW Radio Africa's website also receives hits from all over the world.

"The newspapers, the independent newspapers, have been shut down, so I think it plays a very important role, especially in the lead up to the elections where people can get information on what's happening, especially from within the country," said Mandisa Mundawarara, a presenter on the station.

But most in this small group of journalists doubt Saturday's election will bring change. They say they have been told all members of SW Radio Africa will be jailed if they return under Mugabe's government.

At the weekly vigil, people here also have a sense they will not be able to return home anytime soon.

Attendee Chipo Chaya says there is much anxiety about the election. "It's a bit pessimistic we don't know what’s going to happen in Zimbabwe, we don't know who's going to win but I believe the people want, they need change. We all need change in Zimbabwe," said Chaya.

The Zimbabwean High Commission declined to comment. And outside at the vigil, these expatriates who cannot vote in the upcoming election say they plan to hold their own mock ballot Saturday, to highlight a marred ballot at home.