ALL HOPES this week’s presidential election would have marked the start of a new, post-Robert Mugabe era for Zimbabwe were dashed when deadly violence broke out on the streets of Harare amid reports of serious electoral irregularities.
Things looked promising going into Monday’s vote. Unlike in 2008, opposition parties were allowed to campaign. There was little fighting or aggression – the ruling Zanu-PF party reacted coolly when a bomb went off at one of its events. The election itself was peaceful. That is until things began to fall apart.
Protestors took to the streets after unexplained delays in the release of results. There was heavy gunfire, buildings were damaged and screaming protesters filled the streets. The army moved in. By the time calm returned, six people were dead, dozens injured.
On Monday, the opposition MDC Alliance had said it was heading to victory. But when the official results were released after several days, a slim victory was declared for Mugabe’s successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
International observers upheld some of the opposition’s claims about the poll. The European Union observer mission said “a truly level playing field was not achieved” in the race. It pointed to the “misuse of state resources, instances of coercion and intimidation, partisan behaviour by traditional leaders and overt bias in state media.” The head of the EU mission noted ballots for the presidential vote were counted first. “I have yet to learn why they will be released last,” he said pointedly.
While election day was an improvement on past elections, the subsequent mayhem has dashed all hope that Zimbabwe would be welcomed back into the international fold. Moves to return it to the Commonwealth and to give it the vital access to lending agencies it so badly needs are now in serious peril.
Hopes that Mnangagwa, a former spy chief who is also known as “the Crocodile,” would steer Zimbabwe down a different path also look to be shattered. In addition to the violent suppression of the protests, 18 supporters of the opposition MDC Alliance were detained on Thursday. And about 30 riot police officers turned up at a media conference called by the MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa yesterday.
“Mr Mnangagwa did not win the election in this country,” Chamisa said defiantly. “We are seeing a repeat of the last regime.”
Responding to the riot police raid on the opposition, Mnangagwa tweeted: “The scenes today at the Bronte hotel have no place in our society and we are urgently investigating the matter to understand exactly what happened.” His words did little to assuage concerns that Zimbabwe’s great change in removing Mugabe has simply been an exchange.