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‘We are tired’ – Zimbabweans headed home to vote pin their hopes on change to end their ‘suffering’

A bus preparing to leave the terminal in Johannesburg on 22 August 2023 ahead of the national elections,there are mixed reactions from those going home about the outcome of the elections.(Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

As early as 5am on Tuesday, dozens of Zimbabweans living in South Africa  flocked into the cross-border bus terminal in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, with many headed home for the general election on Wednesday.  

Many carried large suitcases and bags, but most notably, basic food items, some of which were being wrapped and packed by those working at the rank. “In God we trust” was inscribed on some of the buses headed to the country’s 10 provinces. 

Among the returnees was Solomon Ndlovu from Chegutu who has been living in South Africa since 1990. He had been dreading the trip for months, but decided to head home to cast his vote, hoping it will bring some change for his family.

“I am not in South Africa by choice, but by poverty. Maybe if I vote this time  around things will change for real. And if they do, I will happily go back home.”   

On Wednesday, 23 August 2023, more than six million registered residents will head to the polls to elect Zimbabwe’s next president, local council representatives and members of parliament.

The presidential race – which is mainly between Nelson Chamisa, leader of the main opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC), and Emmerson Mnangagwa, the incumbent president and leader of the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) – is expected to be tight. 

For Ndlovu, change means a stable economy that can create jobs. He was barely concerned about who would take over. “I do not care about politics, but change for us, ordinary people.”

I believe Chamisa is the right man for the job, he is young [45] and he understands the severity of the suffering we have endured.

South Africa is home to more than 700,000 Zimbabweans, according to preliminary data released by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency.

Unlike the citizens of many other countries, the diaspora in South Africa need to travel home if they wish to vote because there is no voting option outside the country. 


Zanu-PF has governed the country since independence – for 43 years – and won 50.7% of the vote in the 2018 elections, according to The Outlier. 

Returning to Zimbabwe means high travel costs, which are unaffordable for many living in the country. The cheapest standard bus ticket costs R750 (one way), and can be as much as R1,200, depending on dates and availability. 

Jabulani Sibanda of Gweru said he was heading home because, unlike Zimbabweans in South Africa who struggle to make ends meet, he had the financial means and wanted to do the right thing. 

“We are tired,” he said.   

“I am voting because I want things to get better. I have been voting since the early 1990s but things have remained the same or gotten worse.  

“I believe Chamisa is the right man for the job, he is young [45] and he understands the severity of the suffering we have endured.”  

For Sibanda, change means employment and better working conditions, because, as things stand, “there are no trade unions; they know that people are desperate and hungry so they take advantage”.   

A bus rank marshal who asked not to be identified said he was pleasantly surprised by the number of people using buses to head back home in the past week.  

Ordinarily, about four buses were released a day, but lately the number had tripled, forcing them to even outsource additional buses. 

“Many people have been going to Zimbabwe. I was wondering why because it is not holidays and it is mid-month, it is never so busy.”     

There will never be change in Zim, Mnagangwa will rule until Jesus comes back.

By contrast, while people were leaving in numbers, some were arriving in Johannesburg, mostly from Bulawayo and Harare, saying they had no interest in voting. Those who spoke to Daily Maverick cited far more important matters they needed to attend to in South Africa, including study applications, visiting loved ones and work. 

Daily Maverick was denied access to a bigger Zimbabwe bus rank on Simmonds Street, Braamfontein, because “it is private property”. 

Different views

Barely 2km from the rank are several businesses including salons, eateries and retail shops where many Zimbabweans work. Theirs was a different tale. 

Tatenda Karongwe, a barber, opted to remain in South Africa because he believed the election would not bring about any material change for the ordinary citizens.  

Above all, he was concerned about the flawed electoral processes. 

“I would rather send the money [for bus fare] to my family than go home just to vote.  

“There will never be change in Zim, Mnagangwa will rule until Jesus comes back – it does not matter if people vote or not, he will always win.”   

Hairdresser Colani Ngwenya echoed those sentiments. “Voting in Zimbabwe is a waste of time. Everyone is not happy, that’s why we are here. It is even worse for people at home who see poverty every day. They vote but nothing happens; he [Mngagangwa} will still win.” 

A view from Beitbridge – ‘It is not good to be a native of nowhere’

A small number of Zimbabweans were crossing the Beitbridge border outside Musina into Zimbabwe early on Tuesday morning. Others were coming from Zimbabwe to South Africa. 

Speaking at the border, Steven Chuma, a truck driver in South Africa, said he was not going home to vote due to work commitments. Besides, he feared Zanu-PF would rig the elections. 

“Those results must be counted properly without rigging. People can vote for their president if they want, I am working here in South Africa and have registered to vote in Zimbabwe, but unfortunately due to the pressure of my profession I won’t go to vote,” said Chuma. 

He said the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission should display the results immediately outside each polling station to avoid tampering with the results.

Life in South Africa, he added, was better than in Zimbabwe since basic groceries were cheaper.

Another Zimbabwean at the border, Thomas Moyo, said he was going home to vote, and is optimistic that the polls will bring about positive changes in the country which was once the breadbasket of southern Africa.

“I think there is hope my vote is for change. CCC might take the lead. People are tired of Zanu-PF, no jobs… everything is scattered in Zimbabwe. My vote is for change. In Zimbabwe it’s difficult, here in South Africa everything’s okay,” said Moyo. 

Residents who live just across the border at Beitbridge, who come to the small town of Musina to buy basics, also had mixed feelings about the elections. Some said they were going to vote while others were not keen.

Fear-driven vote

An independent political analyst from Limpopo, Phethani Madzivhandila, predicted  Zanu-PF would win.

“They will win not because people love the party, but because they are afraid of violence as happened in the 2008 general elections”, said Madzivhandila. 

It was important for Zimbabweans to vote because it was the only tool to effect political change in a democratic environment. “Voting is good and important and by not voting is an expression that there is something wrong going on. It is not good to be a native of nowhere, it’s important to fight for your homeland either through elections or civil society movement.”

Director of ports of entries in the Department Home Affairs Stephen van Neel said there is no special arrangement for the movement of people returning to vote in Zimbabwe. During key religious holidays – such as  Christmas and Easter – border management provided additional manpower and service points. 

In a bid to monitor the movement of travellers, a joint operation by the police, immigration and border patrollers had begun, about 800m from the border. Some foreigners without valid documents had been arrested. DM

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