AT least six people were feared dead last night, while several others sustained gunshot injuries after soldiers and police in Harare used brute force to suppress MDC Alliance activists protesting against alleged electoral theft of their vote by Zanu PF and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec).
The city centre resembled a war zone, as soldiers drove in their armoured vehicles and indiscriminately fired live ammunition at anyone they found in the central business district, with several passersby caught in the cross fire.
While police confirmed that three people died, witnesses claimed at least six people were shot dead.
“We express our condolences to the bereaved. We are currently investigating circumstances surrounding the deaths,” national police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba said.
Protesters had gathered in the morning at Richard Morgan Tsvangirai House in Harare’s CBD in what they described as “protecting their vote”.
They vowed not to leave the streets until Zec addressed their issues.
However, police responded by bringing armoured trucks, including water cannons and that parked outside the MDC-T party headquarters, much to the disappointment of the protesters who challengingly started to march towards the Zec headquarters, Zanu PF headquarters and Rainbow Towers Hotel, where results were being announced.
Along the way, the protesters sang and danced, claiming they were protecting MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa’s alleged victory.
They queried the high votes that Zanu PF got in rural areas.
Trouble started after police blocked them from entering Rainbow Towers Hotel, used by Zec as their base to announce the results.
The protesters then retreated and started throwing missiles at the Zanu PF headquarters, damaging several vehicles in the parking area before police fired gunshots and teargas canisters to disperse the crowd, leading to fierce running battles.
In the process, the protestors barricaded some roads with boulders, burning tyres and stoning some buildings as police, who apparently appeared outnumbered, called for reinforcement from the military.
Military tanks rolled into the city centre, with helicopters hovering over, leading to fatal clashes, as they sealed off the MDC-T and MDC Alliance headquarters.
Charamba confirmed that the police decided to engage the military allegedly due to the magnitude of the protests.
“The Commissioner-General of Police (Godwin Matanga) has invoked the provisions of section 37 (1) of the Public Order and Security Act chapter 11:17 and approached the minister of Home Affairs and Culture to request for the assistance of the defence forces for the suppression of the commotion and disturbances in Harare central business district,” Charamba said.
She singled out MDC-T youth leader Happymore Chidziva and MDC Alliance principal Tendai Biti as having organised the protests.
“The ZDF, however, remain under the command and supervision of the Commissioner-General of Police. This development has been necessitated by the fact that the degree of disturbances of law and order have reached a magnitude where our regular police officers, as well as our reserve members, have been unable to cope with this situation. We are urging members of the public to remain calm, refrain from violence and also respect the rule of law in the country,” Charamba said.
“We are fully aware of the inciters, the perpetrators of this violence, they will have themselves to blame when the law is applied,” Charamba added.
But MDC-T chairman Morgen Komichi said the opposition was not behind the protests.
“This is a spontaneous reaction of the people of Zimbabwe to a flawed election that has just taken place,” he said.
“People seem so express that something has gone wrong, they seem to feel that the outcome of elections being announced by Zec does not resonate with the sentiments of the people on the ground. Figures that are coming out are not the true picture that people are expressing.
“People are saying how can we vote for poverty that has plagued us for 38 years? How can we vote for unemployment that is now in the range of 96%? Instead of being brutal, callous by bringing the army in the street, the government must engage the people.”
Zanu PF Harare provincial chairman Godwills Masimirembwa claimed Zanu PF property, including vehicles and a bus, were damaged and party employees injured.
“This situation in town, you must remember it was fomented by none other than Nelson Chamisa because during his campaign trail he said if he loses elections, he will make sure that this country is ungovernable. He threatened to shut down Harare,” Masimirembwa said.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa also blamed the MDC Alliance leadership for the disturbances.
“We hold the opposition MDC Alliance and its whole leadership responsible for this disturbance of national peace, which was meant to disrupt the electoral process. Equally, we hold the party and its leadership responsible for any loss of life, injury or damage of property that arise from these acts of political violence which they have aided and abetted,” Mnangagwa said in an impromptu address to the nation last night.
Mnangagwa ordered the MDC Alliance leadership to remove its violent supporters from the streets.
“In asking them to take this necessary step, government is simply reminding them of their duties as responsible political players, and as citizens.”
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) condemned the deployment of armed soldiers.
“The soldiers have been firing live ammunition on fleeing civilians in the crowded streets with some of the injured and dead being shot in the back, including women,” ZimRights said.
The human rights body pleaded with Sadc and the African Union to intervene.
The United States Embassy in Harare also condemned the violence, calling on all political parties to respect peace.
“We urge leaders of all parties to call for calm from members of their respective parties. We further urge the Defence Forces of Zimbabwe to use restraint in dispersing protestors,” the embassy said in a statement yesterday.
“Zimbabwe has an historic opportunity to move the country towards a brighter future for all its citizens. Violence cannot be a part of that process.”
The United Nations also issued a statement last night calling on Zimbabwean political leaders to exercise restraint and reject all forms of violence.