The registration rate and voting patterns in rural areas will, as always, be crucial. These voters previously supported Mugabe, out of fear or loyalty. Analysts claim that the new biometric voters’ roll is skewed towards rural as opposed to urban registration numbers – another contentious issue.
They also believe this election will be won or lost on youth votes – some 43% of Zimbabweans are aged between 18 and 25, but no-one knows how many have registered to vote. Many first-time voters suffering under a decimated economy may be swayed by the charismatic and youthful Nelson Chamisa (aged just 40; Mnangagwa is 75).
While Chamisa has brought a breath of fresh air to Zimbabwean politics, he leads a splintered opposition, which, just weeks before elections, is still squabbling over primaries, constituencies and party logos. In comparison, ZANU-PF is more organised.
When asked what they thought the role of South Africa should be during the elections and beyond, the South African Embassy in Harare replied that “South Africa is ready to work with anyone who wins in a free and fair way”. However, it does raise a question about what Pretoria and the region’s stance would be if there are lingering questions about the credibility and fairness of the elections.
They welcomed the possibility of a Government of National Unity (GNU). Several people we spoke to shared this sentiment, saying that it is not only a likely outcome, but perhaps the safest, allowing room for both sides during this important transition. Others say the last GNU did Zimbabwe more harm than good.
Whichever way these factors play out on the ground come 30 July, one thing is clear: the Zimbabwean people are more expectant and hopeful than ever before. The international community needs to do all it can to allow them to fulfil their aspirations.
By Steven Gruzd and Cayley Clifford for the South African Institute of International Affairs