The peaceful voting process praised across the globe went up in smoke yesterday when the Zimbabwean military opened fire on rioting MDC Alliance supporters, killing three people in Harare’s CBD.
Unconfirmed reports put the number of deceased at five when army tanks - last seen when Robert Mugabe was deposed in November’s soft coup - rolled in, manned by soldiers armed to the teeth.
Police spokesperson Charity Charamba confirmed that three people were killed, adding that they were looking for MDC Alliance leader Tendai Biti for questioning over the violence.
Riot police were equally brutal in quelling the youths who burnt cars, threw stones, burnt branches and litter a street away from the Zimbabwe Election Command Centre, where the contentious presidential vote count was under way.
Riot police fired water cannons, stun grenades and teargas, forcing the youths to retreat into Harare’s CBD.
Army helicopters could be seen hovering over the capital in a show of force by the same army that turned its guns on the very people it marched with when they got rid of Mugabe nine months ago.
It only made matters worse, with the Harare CBD fast degenerating into a war zone. The military allegedly fired live bullets in running battles with angry MDC youths, who accused President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Zanu-PF of cheating their way to victory.
“Zanu yabirira! Zanu yabirira! (Zanu has cheated),” chanted the stone-throwing youths.
Zanu-PF recorded a landslide victory over the MDC Alliance led by Nelson Chamisa in the parliamentary polls. It is believed this is what triggered the violence.
Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) chairperson Priscilla Chigumba confirmed that Zanu-PF had won a two-thirds majority with its 145 seats, allowing it to change the constitution.
The MDC was a distant second with 64 seats, while the little known National Patriotic Front got one seat, and Temba Mliswa emerged as the only independent candidate to win a seat.
By close of business yesterday, the army and police had taken over the burning capital, barricading all major roads.
MDC Alliance leaders, including Chamisa, have been partly blamed for the deadly violence that erupted.
Chamisa tweeted that he had won the “popular vote” while the crowd swelled close to the Election Command Centre, demanding the release of the presidential vote results.
MDC secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora went on radio and gave several reporters interviews, calling the elections a fraud.
President Mnangagwa called for calm and for Zimbabweans to wait for the official announcement of the presidential race results.
“We must all demonstrate patience and maturity, and act in a way that puts our people and their safety first,” Mnangagwa tweeted.
The MDC and Chamisa’s spokesperson Nkululeko Sibanda rejected claims that his party was to blame for the violence.
“The only violence we must talk about is that people are dead The MDC did not open fire on unarmed civilians. Why are soldiers policing streets? Police are the only law enforcement to deal with protests, which by the way are a democratic right,” he pointed out.
Sibanda, like other MDC leaders, called the election fraudulent, launching a scathing attack on the ZEC. “The ZEC should be held accountable for this chaos. They have cooked the election figures.”
Zanu-PF’s legal affairs secretary Paul Mangwana said the fear among MDC supporters was that the presidential poll result -expected today - would mirror the parliamentary outcome, keeping Mnangagwa in power.
“They fear losing, and have chosen a violent path. I even see the fake news being peddled that eight people have died. This is untrue. The MDC must allow the ZEC to do its work unhindered, as the observers have requested,” Mangwana said.
The African observer missions lauded the Zimbabwe elections as free, fair and credible, with only the EU expressing some concerns a few hours before the violence erupted.
The AU’s election observation mission, led by former Ethiopian prime minister Haile Desalegn Boshe, said: “Despite the large voter turnout, voting took place in a peaceful and orderly environment.”
The SADC team said the harmonious elections represented a political watershed in Zimbabwe’s history, as they could open “a new chapter towards socio-economic recovery and consolidation of democracy”.
The EU observer mission, led by Elmar Brok, said it would only make a final judgment after the release of the presidential results.
“The Zimbabwe elections showed an improved political climate, but an unlevel playing field, intimidation of voters and the lack of trust in the process undermined the pre-election environment.
“ For Zimbabwe to embrace democracy and move on from the past, such practices must stop,” said Brok.
He also criticised the ZEC’s conduct as lacking transparency in the run-up to the elections.
“It is imperative that the results process is credible and transparent, with a full breakdown of polling stations to ensure confidence in the outcome,” Brok added.