Zimbabwe election fails to banish Mugabe's demons
The country's hopes of restoring international standing are in jeopardy in the wake of deadly clashes
Zimbabwe’s election was meant to be a moment of national transformation: a textbook exercise in tolerance and democracy to banish the demons of Robert Mugabe’s brutal misrule.
But a week after the violence-marred election, tensions are running high in Harare and a deal to bring the country back into the community of nations appears to be unravelling.
Emmerson Mnangagwa, the former intelligence chief who served Mugabe for decades before ousting him in 2017, entered what were probably the most credible elections in the country’s history betting he could secure power with a victory transparent and peaceful enough to gain a stamp of approval from the international community.The quid pro quo whispered in his ear by foreign, and particularly British, diplomats was an end to isolation, a return to the Commonwealth, and financial assistance to rebuild his country. Instead, he won the very narrowest victory, the world has been shocked by troops shooting civilians in the street, and the opposition has refused to recognise the result.
Nelson Chamisa, Mnangagwa’s 40-year-old populist challenger, has told supporters that the result was a fraud and has promised a “robust strategy” of political and legal pressures to force him to step down.
The upshot is a febrile and uncertain atmosphere in which fear, suspicion and rumour are rife.
“This is obviously very bad for the country,” said one western diplomat in Harare. “The door is not closed, but they have got to get a grip on alleged assaults by troops.”Officially, six people were killed and three remain in critical condition after troops were unleashed when an opposition protest in Harare descended into riot on Wednesday.Chamisa, who says he won about 200,000 more votes than the results showed, will file a legal challenge with the constitutional court this week to force a rerun of the election. Mnangagwa said he is “free to do so” because Zimbabwe is a democracy. But the prospect of a second election would raise memories of 2008, when Mugabe and Mnangagwa unleashed a campaign of killings and intimidation against MDC supporters to force Morgan Tsvangari, the leader of the MDC at the time, to withdraw from a second-round runoff.
The opposition say they are already facing systematic harassment. Police raided the offices of Chamisa’s MDC Alliance, attempted to break up his first post-results press conference, and surrounded the house of a senior opposition MP’s mother.
Activists arrested in the raid on the party office were denied bail yesterday.The Sunday Telegraph understands that some MDC supporters have also carried out revenge beatings on soldiers, fuelling fears of further bloodshed.
Uncertainty in Zimbabwe is fuelled by reports of division at the highest level of government. Sources close to the military said the troops were deployed not because police could not cope but because the government is uncertain of the force’s loyalty. The sources said the police are perceived to be dominated by Mugabe loyalists and were sidelined in security roles after the November military coup. Many of them are suspected of supporting Chamisa because of resentment at their treatment.It was a distinction recognised by residents of Zengeza 2, a poor suburb of Harare where locals reacted to military violence by beating two soldiers.
“We are not going to fight with the police, they are on our side,” said one resident. “Most of these soldiers do not have their own houses, they are lodgers here and we going to make sure they are all evicted.”
One policeman in southern Harare admitted yesterday that he was an MDC supporter. But he said he feared the implications of Chamisa’s bid to challenge the results. “The MDC should think of other ways of getting into power,” he said. “I don’t see them getting into power without firing guns.”
– © The Sunday Telegraph