Zimbabwe opposition urged to ‘lose graciously’ as election results due

Zimbabwean police officers cordon off the streets around the MDC opposition party headquarters (Jerome Delay/AP) Credit: AP/Press Association Images

Zimbabwe’s ruling party has told the opposition that “we should all lose graciously” as presidential election results are set to be announced.

Zanu-PF spokesman Paul Mangwana said opposition supporters were responsible for Wednesday’s deadly violence in the capital Harare in which the military swept in with gunfire to disperse protests over alleged rigging in Monday’s vote.

He said that “it is not entirely true protesters were not armed”.

He also urged supporters of the ruling party to “celebrate our victory with restraint”.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa said his government was in touch with main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa in an attempt to ease tensions, hours after he accused the opposition of inciting it.

But Mr Chamisa said he had not received any communication from the president and criticised the “violent government”.

He spoke during a visit to a Harare hospital where some of the injured and three dead were taken after Wednesday’s violence.

“We have unarmed civilians being attacked,” Mr Chamisa said. “Is that normal even in a banana republic?”

Mr Chamisa called for calm and again said he is “very confident we are forming the next government”.

Britain’s ambassador to Zimbabwe has met government ministers and “made clear that the military should be removed from the streets of Harare”.

An embassy statement also condemned the “excessive use of force by the security forces towards demonstrators” in the capital.

The statement welcomes Mr Mnangagwa’s comments announcing an independent investigation into the violence and says all political leaders have a responsibility to avoid raising tensions or inciting violence.

Soldiers cleared people from the streets of central Harare after they swept in and used gunfire on Wednesday to disperse protesters angry over alleged vote-rigging in Monday’s peaceful election.

Zimbabwe police are seen outside the opposition party headquarters in Harar Credit: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

Troops were stationed outside the opposition Movement for Democratic Change’s party headquarters.

International election observers urged Zimbabwe to release results of the presidential vote as soon as possible to reduce the tensions, saying delays will increase speculation that results were manipulated.

By law the electoral commission has five days from the vote to release them, but both observers and the opposition have asked why presidential results were counted first but are being released last.

In a series of posts on Twitter, Mr Mnangagwa said “we have been in communication” with Mr Chamisa and that “we must maintain this dialogue in order to protect the peace we hold dear”.

The conciliatory remarks came a day after soldiers shot live rounds and beat demonstrators, many of whom threw rocks and set fires to protest against alleged election fraud. The government has said three people were killed.

Wednesday’s violence erupted after the electoral commission said the ruling Zanu-PF party won a majority in parliament. The commission has said the vote was free and fair.

A credible vote is crucial to the lifting of international sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe so that its collapsed economy can recover. Elections under Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule were marked by violence against the opposition and alleged fraud.

Mr Mnangagwa called for an “independent investigation” into the violence in Harare, saying those responsible “should be identified and brought to justice”.

Human rights activists and some international observers criticised the military for opening fire on unarmed civilians in what they said was a disproportionate reaction to the protests and rioting.

Soldiers fired “randomly” and beat up bystanders who were not involved in the protests, said the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.

“Yesterday’s events leave ordinary citizens with serious doubts that this government is any different from its predecessor, if not worse,” the forum said, referring to the long rule of Mr Mugabe, who resigned in November under military pressure.

The new joint statement by international election observers from the European Union, US, Commonwealth, African Union and others expressed “grave concern” over the deadly violence and denounced the “excessive use of force” used to calm the protests. It urged Zimbabwe’s army and police to use restraint.

The military deployment was the first time that soldiers had appeared in the streets of the capital since Mr Mugabe’s departure in November. At that time, thousands of jubilant residents welcomed the soldiers as liberators.

Now some Harare residents, standing amid the shattered windows of Wednesday’s violence, expressed frustration and exhaustion.

“We are tired of these people. They have to go, they have to go, the Zanu-PF regime,” said a 23-year-old who gave his name only as Elliott. “Because 29 years of oppressing the people of Zimbabwe, we are tired, we are saying we are tired.”

Another resident, 29-year-old Sifas Gavanga, said: “We are a peaceful nation. We don’t deserve the death we saw that happened yesterday.”

Zimbabwean authorities now say the military will remain in the capital until “this situation is over”.