The peace and calm referred to in Zimbabwe, right through to the long-awaited Election Day, Monday, ended abruptly Wednesday when opposition supporters demanding release of results from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), clashed with the once beloved army, in the streets of Harare.
By the end of the day, three people were dead, several injured, and visible blood pools stained the Capital’s street, marking the end of a very bad day.
"They shot him here, then everything comes from the front. And it was a sad situation,” recounted one protestor of a gunshot victim.
"Why are they killing us? What did we do? We didn't do anything,” asked another.
And from another proter, a mere plea to the country’s incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
"Please, please, we are begging you, let's go with the constitution. We are civilians. We are fighting for our rights. We need our rights.”
Zanu-PF – MDC Alliance Trade Blame on Violence
The protestors had come out in large numbers to oppose the House of Assembly election results that gave the ruling Zanu-PF party a more than two-thirds majority, and were now demanding the release of the presidential results, which they accused ZEC of tampering with, to deprive opposition leader Nelson Chamisa of the MDC Alliance, a clear victory.
In response to the protests, the once loved army that citizens embraced back in November for forcing out longtime leader Robert Mugabe, came out in full gear to disperse the crowd using water cannons, baton sticks and live bullets that were fired indiscriminately into the crowd.
President Mnangagwa blamed the MDC Alliance leadership for the “violence and hooliganism,” and ordered it to recall its protestors.
“We hold the opposition MDC Alliance and its whole leadership responsible for this disturbance of national peace which was meant to disrupt the electoral process," said Mnangagwa. "Equally we hold the party and its leadership responsible for any loss of life, injury or damage to property that arise from these acts of political violence which they aided and abetted."
The country's Home Affairs Minister Obert Mpofu announced a state of emergency throughout the country.
DeVry University Professor of Business Administration, Elliot Masocha, said Mnangagwa was right to call out the MDC Alliance and its supporters, which he said gave Mnangagwa and his government no choice but respond as it did.
“For now it’s a right thing because of where things were going,” Professor Masocha said.
Masocha said the MDC Alliance supporters presumed victory for their leader based on false impression that Chamisa had countrywide support, when in reality, it was confined to the capital Harare, where it swept out the ruling Zanu-PF party. Masocha also said social media exaggerated Chamisa's popularity.
“Forget that you have numbers, but that does not translate into winning the whole country,” said Masocha, adding that “people are influenced by social media that they don’t feel they need authentic information from a body like ZEC.”
But the MDC Alliance has pushed back, saying it has the numbers and it has the votes, and that it was Mnangagwa’s government and party that erred, by deploying the army and conspiring with ZEC to steal votes.
Addressing journalists who challenged the MDC Alliance for sending out its supporters - some of whom threw stones and burned barricades and Zanu-PF regalia - to protest and declare victory for Chamisa before ZEC had released the presidential results, Chamisa’s Spokesperson, Dr. Nkululeko Sibanda, said Zanu-PF likely infiltrated the protesters to create chaos.
“Let me be brutally honest with you,” Sibanda told journalists. “My experience in this country and many other dictatorships it is that when you have peaceful demonstrations and the state wants to repress those demonstrations, they will send people who will pretend to be your supporters and start up the violence and give an excuse to react off handedly. And I think this is one of those things that we are experiencing.”
International observers who had initially given high praise for Zimbabwe’s peaceful elections, issued more cautiously worded preliminary post-election results, alluding to some inconsistencies that could legitimize the opposition and its supporters' concerns.
Director Jennifer Cooke of the Institute of African Studies at George Washington University’s Elliot School of International Affairs, who appeared on VOA’s Straight Talk Africa, said the international observers have role to play in addressing discrepancies in the election.
“I think the observers need to call it as they see it, frankly and openly. I think SADC and the African Union and kind of key democratic leaders within Africa need to step up. They may be the ones that can pressure for some kind of accountability and what really happened here,” Cooke said.
Also speaking on VOA’s Straight Talk Africa program, Den Moyo, chairman of the U.S. branch of the Movement for Democratic Change led by Dr. Thokozani Khupe, said Wednesday’s developments and the questionable results that sparked the clashes, have taken Zimbabwe backwards.
“We have dead bodies in the streets. How can you then say the elections were free and fair?” Moyo queried? “So we are back to square zero. We are back to being looked at by the international community as a pariah state. So how does that help Zimbabwe? How does that move us forward,” asked Moyo?
As the spotlight remains on Zimbabwe as it awaits the announcement of the presidential results that will see either incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zanu-PF or Nelson Chamisa of the MDC Alliance become the country’s new leader, the United Nations has called for calm and restraint.
“We’d like to remind the incumbents and political parties of the commitments they made in the peace pledge, and the code of conduct to ensure peaceful electoral process,” Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesperson for the United Nations Secretary-General, said at a press conference Wednesday.
“We call on the political leaders and the population as whole to exercise restraint and reject any form of violence while awaiting the resolution of the dispute and the announcement of the electoral results.”
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has said it will announce the results of the presidential race, Thursday.