Former President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, on Sunday addressed the nation for the first time since stepping down in November and just hours before Monday’s historic election.
He said “I will not vote for those who have illegally taken power.”
In a slow and rambling address, he spoke to reporters about the circumstances of his removal under military pressure and after a ruling party feud.
He was coy about endorsing a candidate ahead of the election in which the former deputy that he fired, President Emmerson Mnangagawa, faces a 40-year-old lawyer and pastor, Nelson Chamisa.
Mugabe, who has backed a new political party that is part of a coalition supporting Chamisa, said of him: “He seems to be doing well at his rallies.”
And Mugabe added: “Whoever wins, we wish him well … And let us accept the verdict.”
Many in Zimbabwe knew no other leader but Mugabe, who led the country for 37 years and since independence from white minority rule in 1980.
What began with optimism crumbled into repression, alleged vote-rigging, intimidation of the opposition, violent land seizures from white farmers and years of international sanctions.
The country hopes that a credible vote on Monday could get those sanctions lifted and bring badly needed investment for a collapsed economy.
Mnangagwa, a former Mugabe confidante, had tried to recast himself as a voice for reform, inviting back Western dozens of election observers and pledging a free and fair vote.
“I have during all this time liked our return to conditionality, our return to legality, an environment in which our people are free,” Mugabe told reporters.
But he blamed “evil and malicious characters” for his removal from power, which was met with a joyous outpouring in the capital, Harare, by thousands.
He said he resigned to avoid “bloodshed.”
While Mugabe, who has largely remained quiet in his Harare home since leaving power, spoke largely of the past, Zimbabweans are already impatient for the future and Monday’s vote.