United States President Donald Trump’s administration is ratcheting up pressure on embattled President-elect Emmerson Mnangagwa by demanding that he institutes a transparent and credible investigation into the August 1 killing of at least six protesters in Harare.
Speaking after meeting Mnangagwa in the capital on Wednesday, US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Brian Nichols, said Washington was greatly disturbed by reports of violence and the death of six people.
The US is also appalled by the intimidation of opposition polling agents as well as alleged beatings of civilians in high-density suburbs by suspected State security agents.
“There should be a transparent and credible investigation and those involved should be charged according to the Constitution of Zimbabwe. Respect for human rights, rule of law and economic reforms should be observed,” Nichols said.
At least six people lost their lives in the protests after the army was deployed to disperse demonstrators who were frustrated by inordinate delays in the release of presidential results by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec).
The protesters also accused Zec of rigging the poll results in favour of Zanu PF and its presidential candidate.
In the ensuing melee, the soldiers fired live ammunition, drawing widespread condemnation from the international community.
While no arrests have been made in connection with the killings, dozens of opposition activists, particularly polling agents, have since appeared in court over the violence.
Other opposition activists are reportedly in hiding amid allegations that they are being hunted down by security agents who want to force them to sign fake V11 forms that form part of the MDC Alliance’s evidence in the ongoing electoral challenge at the Constitutional Court (Con-Court).
Mnangagwa has reacted to the deadly violence by stating that he would institute an investigation into the incident.
During his most recent public address, the 75-year-old politician blamed the MDC Alliance for allegedly inciting the violence.
Nichols, who met Mnangagwa for one hour at State House a fortnight after the killings, described their engagement as “very productive”.
Notwithstanding, he said Washington was concerned with recent events and the human rights situation of August 1.
“President Mnangagwa has stressed commitment to creating a peaceful environment for Zimbabwe and to respect human rights. Trump is committed to a positive relationship with Zimbabwe.
“We support freedom of speech, democracy, free and fair elections but we do not support any particular person or party,” said Nichols as he emerged from the meeting.
Nichols replaced Ambassador Harry Thomas Jnr, whose tour of duty came to an end recently, and the new envoy is a veteran member of the US Senior Foreign Service and has served as an American diplomat since 1989.
A dyed-in-the-wool career diplomat who is a recipient of 20 State Department awards and has served in Peru and the Colombia capital, Bogota, Nichols has gone through “a hell of a lot more substantive responsibilities in hot-spots,” one diplomat said.
Meanwhile, Nichols also spoke to Zimbabwe’s opposition MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa yesterday and reiterated the need to put the country back on a democratic path.
The Daily News understands he wanted to hear from Chamisa a little bit how he viewed the political situation in Zimbabwe.
This comes as the US is under pressure to take a firm line with Mnangagwa who took power in a coup in November, and won elections that are being disputed in the Con-Court.
Chamisa yesterday declined to state what he discussed with the US envoy, referring the Daily News to his tweet.
“Had a great meeting with the US Ambassador to Zim on norms, values and standards regarding free, fair elections & human rights,” Chamisa said in his tweet.
Diplomats said Washington fears the turmoil will distract attention from the urgent task of fixing a dying economy that has led to worsening hardships here.
Prior to the elections whose results are being challenged at the Con-Court by Chamisa, Trump’s administration had made it clear that it would wait for Mnangagwa to fulfil his reform promises before it can put a seal of approval on his government.
But the latest developments have dented the credibility of the plebiscite.
Trump’s administration has already responded to the August 1 killings by extending US sanctions against Zimbabwe, in a development deplored by the Mnangagwa administration.
With former president Robert Mugabe out of the way following his ouster by the military last year, Mnangagwa as the successor has been speaking social, economic and political reforms.
Ahead of the just-ended polls, he invested a lot into international re-engagement following decades of isolation.