Uncertainty hangs in Harare’s air

Harare — By Thursday the dust had settled in Harare’s city centre. There was little evidence of the violence that had erupted the night before, when soldiers opened fire on angry demonstrators, killing at least three people.

That doesn’t mean that things in the capital have returned to normal. The streets are deserted, except for the soldiers and police who came out in force in the morning. People are staying home, nervous. News and gossip is exchanged over Facebook and WhatsApp — some real, some fake. It is hard to tell the difference.

The recrimination and blame games have begun in earnest.

“It is completely unacceptable that the army can be deployed to carry out policing duties and to use lethal force against unarmed civilians,” said Arnold Tsunga, vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights.

On state television, President Emmerson Mnangagwa took a different tack. “Incidents of wanton violence and hooliganism which broke out this afternoon in the capital come as a complete surprise. 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, playing the elder statesman — not entirely convincingly — said he has reached out to opposition leader Nelson Chamisa. “We must maintain this dialogue in order to protect the peace we hold dear,” he said.

But Chamisa has gone silent since his tweet on Wednesday claiming victory in the presidential poll, which had not been announced, and before the release of parliamentary results, which gave Zanu-PF an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly.

Nor is the MDC Alliance speaking to journalists. Licking its wounds, the opposition is planning its next steps — and trying to understand the scale of the problem.

The police have told senior MDC Alliance figure and former finance minister Tendai Biti to report to the police in connection with Wednesday’s violence, along with opposition youth leader Happymore Chidziva.

The opposition coalition has not confirmed reports claiming that Job Sikhala, an MDC Alliance MP, was abducted from his home at 4am on Thursday.

The Commonwealth election observer mission said it denounced “the excessive use of force against unarmed civilians”, although it did not elaborate on how this would influence its assessment of the election.

Official results for the presidential vote are expected on Thursday night at the earliest. But it may be some time before Harare returns to normal. 

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Kudzai Mashininga
Kudzai Mashininga

Mashininga is an experienced Zimbabwean journalist.

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