Lovemore Ranga Mataire
CALM returned on the streets of Harare on Thursday, a day after MDC Alliance protesters clashed with security agents resulting in the death of six civilians.
The announcement by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) of parliamentary results in which the ruling party was on the cusp of securing a two-thirds majority sparked the protest.
Out of a total 210 parliamentary seats, Zanu-PF won 145 while the MDC Alliance won 63. The remaining two seats were won by the opposition National Patriotic Front (NPF) and an independent candidate.
Prior to the actual voting, the MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa had said his party would protest any result that did not declare him a winner.
And even before the presidential results were announced, his supporters were peeved by the parliamentary outcome which gave an indication that their leader was never going to be the next Head of State.
What began as a peaceful march on Tuesday morning in Harare’s CBD turned violent when MDC Alliance protesters started burning cars, stoning buildings and tearing Zanu-PF campaign posters late in the afternoon.
The protestors first gathered at the MDC headquarters (Harvest House) in the city centre before marching to Africa Unity Square close to Parliament building.
Police watched from a distance as the group returned to the MDC headquarters where they received instructions to march to ZEC headquarters on the northern side of the CBD close to Zanu-PF headquarters.
They sung and chanted anti-government songs and denounced ZEC, for alleged rigging in favour of Zanu-PF.
The crowd failed to get access to ZEC offices because the entry road was barricaded by police and graders that were resurfacing the road.
Visibly agitated, the mob then headed towards the Harare International Conference Centre (HICC) - the hotel where results were being announced.
Along the way to HICC, the group gathered outside the Zanu-PF headquarters and started throwing stones at vehicles parked inside the premises.
Some tore President Emerson Mnangagwa’s giant campaign poster while others vandalised traffic lights and barricaded the road to the HICC.
At least 20 anti-riot police that were inside the HICC premises had already closed the main gate to the hotel. Hordes of international observers who had just briefed journalists about their assessment of the elections were still inside the hotel.
There was a standoff that lasted for about 30 minutes until protesters started throwing stones at police and journalists that were close to the gate. Journalists scurried away while police sprayed water and fired teargas to disperse the crowd.
Majority of the protesters then rushed back to the CBD while others went in the direction of the Freedom Square- the venue of Nelson Chamisa’s last campaign rally on July 28.
It was at that point that military personnel made way into town probably after an SOS call from the police, who clearly looked overwhelmed by the rowdy crowd.
Mayhem ensued in the CBD, as the police with the aid of the military, started dispersing people out of the city centre.
No one knew exactly what was happening until news started filtering through that at least three people had died with several others injured.
As calm returned to the CBD, President Mnangagwa appeared on national television, the ZBC Thursday morning. He appeared calm but stern.
In his statement, Mnangagwa urged Zimbabweans to remain peaceful and calm. He regretted the loss of lives and said investigations into the disturbance were underway.
“We hold the MDC Alliance and its whole leadership responsible for this disturbance of national peace, which was meant to disrupt the electoral process,” Mnangagwa said.
He also blamed the MDC for the loss of lives and damage to property and urged them to forthwith “remove its violent supporters from the streets so peace returns to the country”.
Shortly after Mnangagwa’s media briefing, a spokesperson for MDC Alliance leader, Nkululeko Sibanda, appeared on eNCA television condemning the death of three civilians.
Reading a statement on behalf of his leader Sibanda said: “Let us all maintain peace in the country whilst respecting the rights of citizens. The idea that protesters are violent is a false narrative that cannot be justified. We urge Zimbabweans and supporters to exercise their rights with due regard to the law and the rights of other citizens.”
A few hours after the MDC spokesperson’s briefing, the Minister of Home Affairs was to appear on national television flanked by police chief Godwin Matanga and spokesperson Charity Charamba.
Mpofu told journalists that he had earlier in the morning contacted the MDC Alliance leader Chamisa and the party’s secretary general Douglas Mwonzora, who both disowned the rowdy mob.
The Minister said he watched the MDC mob attacking cars parked at Zanu-PF headquarters from his 8th floor office. He realised that the MDC Alliance duo of Chamisa and Mwonzora were not being sincere.
Mpofu reiterated that perpetrators of the violence would be brought to face justice and that investigations into the killing of the three civilians were underway.
The Home Affairs Minister said the police had invited Tendai Biti, an MDC Alliance principal, to assist police in their investigations.
Several election observers condemned the violence and killing of civilians. Unconfirmed reports said Biti, a prominent lawyer, later turned himself in at Harare Central Prison on Thursday afternoon.