Chaos rocks Harare

HARARE - The streets of Harare were yesterday turned into war zones after the army was deployed to disperse demonstrators, unhappy with delays in the release of election results and perceived bias by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec).

Several protesters were injured in the ensuing melee, with a journalist from the AFP claiming seeing a dead body on the street although this could not be independently verified.

The running battles, which started around 11:00hrs, climaxed about four hours later, before relative calm returned to Harare’s central business district (CBD) well after 18:00hrs, leaving a big scar on what was arguably Zimbabwe’s most peaceful poll.

Held on Monday, the harmonised elections became a fiercely fought battle between old rivals, Zanu PF and the MDC.

A key highlight was the clash between first time presidential aspirants, President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zanu PF, and 40-year-old MDC Alliance leader, Nelson Chamisa.

Mnangagwa, 75, and Chamisa found themselves at the helm of their respective parties in November 2017 and February this year respectively.

In the case of Mnangagwa, this followed a military intervention that ousted Robert Mugabe, whose iron-fisted rule spanned over three decades.

Chamisa’s ascendancy came hard on the heels of the death of founding MDC president, Morgan Tsvangirai, who lost his battle with colon cancer on February 14.

Yesterday’s riots pushed Zimbabwe to the edge, with MDC Alliance leaders declaring they will not accept anything short of a Chamisa victory.

In National Assembly results released in the past two days, the Alliance was trounced by Zanu PF, which garnered a majority in Parliament.

As early as 06:00hrs yesterday, police — armed with assault rifles — had been deployed at open spaces in central Harare in the wake of rising political temperatures.

Later, angry MDC supporters picketed at the party’s headquarters before besieging Zec’s command centre at a top Harare hotel, under the watchful eye of the police.

They hurled obscenities at police while denigrating Mnangagwa whom they alleged to be working with Zec to subvert the will of the people.

The law enforcement agents who were armed to the teeth, with water cannons in tow, had to fire warning shots to disperse the angry mob who were mobbing cars of foreign observers while also throwing stones.

With the protesters digging in, police fired teargas, with the smoke wafting to the hotel where most of the diplomats are staying.

The protesters then ran rampage in the CBD where they destroyed road signs, benches, stoplights, litter bins, burnt cardboard boxes and other targets.

Posters of Mnangagwa were pulled down and war gongs were sounded as they went on the offensive, attacking those they came across.

Shops were closed as people fled from the menacing demonstrators who were carrying poles and stones.

Smoke billowed from burning vehicles.

In the city centre, the number kept swelling by the hour, amid whistles and songs as they took matters into their own hands.

For about an hour, the usually busy roads were clear with no cars and drivers who dared were also tormented.

As the situation deteriorated, armoured military vehicles which were a spectacle during the soft coup in November as jubilant protesters took selfies with soldiers were turned against the protesters yesterday.

The army opened fire on protesters, and started beating up those they came across, particularly those who were wearing red, being the MDC colours.

Several people were wounded while others were hauled into military trucks.

Chamisa’s spokesperson Nkululeko Sibanda said the demonstrators were exercising their right to demonstrate.

“(I am) not sure whether those are MDC supporters but they seem to be Zimbabweans who love their country and are defending their votes; you will hear from the president very soon,” said Sibanda.

On Tuesday, Chamisa declared an early victory long before the counting had been completed — including in the rural regions that tend to overwhelmingly support the ruling party.

Yesterday, he tweeted: “Thank you Zimbabwe ... I’m humbled by the support you have given to me as a Presidential Candidate. We have won the popular vote. You voted for total Change in this past election! We have won this one together. No amount of results manipulation will alter your will #Godisinit.”

Mnangagwa has called for calm.

“At this crucial time, I call on everyone to desist from provocative declarations and statements. We must all demonstrate patience and maturity, and act in a way that puts our people and their safety first. Now is the time for responsibility and above all, peace,” Mnangagwa said on Twitter.

The election stands as an important test for Zimbabwe as the country tries to rebuild its economy and international standing after nearly four decades of Mugabe rule.
The violence is reminiscent of the disputed election in 2008 which the opposition claimed to have won outright.

Instead it resulted in a presidential run-off, during which regime supporters engaged in a countrywide campaign of intimidation and violence that eventually forced the opposition candidate to withdraw.

International observer missions from around the world released preliminary statements yesterday that largely withheld judgment on the allegations of rigging and other irregularities for Monday’s contest, though most at least noted polarisation and bias in the media ahead of the election.

The opposition alleges that irregularities occurred, saying that voting results were not posted outside one-fifth of polling stations as required by law.

MDC officials also questioned possible discrepancies in the vote count from small rural constituencies that they say are posting numbers higher than their voting population.

Under the country’s electoral laws, Zec is the only body mandated with announcing the final results of an election.

Home Affairs minister Obert Mpofu warned on Tuesday that anyone who would declare the results other than Zec will face the full wrath of the law.

— Additional reporting: The Washington Post/AFP

Comments (1)

Those people that started violence are not MDC but are Zanu pf youths and Street vendors sent in to the street and start problems pretending to be MDC so that all the blame could be levelled against Chamisa. Zanu pf are crooks, they are evil. I have 2 friends who were approached and paid money to demonstrate against delay on anouncing presidential election result. Zanu pf knew the general public would naively quickly join in the demonstrations thinking its genuine MDC demonstrating. The plan worked well for Zanu pf. The whole thing was planed by Paul Mangwana and Sten Zvorwadza including Zanu Pf youth leadership. I have evidence to this through my friends phones communication texts who were paid to take part.

mike - 3 August 2018

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