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Zimbabwe elections: Opposition accuses security forces of violence as dispute about election result rumbles on

'A lot of people are hiding. It’s scarier than the Mugabe times'

By Kim Sengupta | UK Independent |

Jacob Katsande was lucky to escape unhurt, he says, when troops opened fire with live rounds on the streets of Zimbabwe’s capital. He was among hundreds of people who were protesting against what they claimed was the theft of the country’s elections. Two of his friends are in hospital, shot in the leg, another with wounds from a beating.

Zimbabwean policemen sit in a vehicle stationed outside the headquarters of opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance, in Harare, on August 2, 2018. Picture: AFP PHOTO / MARCO LONGARI
Zimbabwean policemen sit in a vehicle stationed outside the headquarters of opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance, in Harare, on August 2, 2018. Picture: AFP PHOTO / MARCO LONGARI

The government of Emmerson Mnangagwa, who won the bitterly disputed presidential poll, the first one in 38 years without Robert Mugabe in power, had promised an independent investigation into the shooting. But there is little belief among the opposition that anyone would face charges over the killing of six people and injury to 30 others.

Instead, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) claim security forces have been hunting down its supporters, meting out beatings, destroying properties and carrying out arbitrary arrests.

Mr Katsande, 26, and unemployed since he graduated three years ago with an electronics degree, has heard that his name is on the list of those to be detained. But he has no intention, he says, of running away. “I have done nothing wrong, I will go to court if that’s what happens and tell the truth that is that we were attacked without provocation,” he maintains.

Many others, however, are not particularly confident of getting justice and are not hanging around. Nkululeko Sibanda, a senior MDC official, said “a lot of people are hiding. It’s scarier than the Mugabe times.” He was speaking at the central courthouse in Harare where 27 people were appearing charged with various offences, including inciting violence.

“There is a pattern to this, we are aware that the government is trying to build a case to say that our party is violent, it is just another example of their hypocrisy,” said Mr Sibanda, who is an advisor to MDC leader Nelson Chamisa, who was the main challenger to Mr Mnangagwa in the election.

Police block dozens of opposition party supporters from entering the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission offices in Harare, Zimbabwe, Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018. Zimbabwe’s ruling party has won a majority of seats in Parliament, the electoral commission announced Wednesday, as the country braced for the first official results of the presidential election. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
Police block dozens of opposition party supporters from entering the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission offices in Harare, Zimbabwe, Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018. Zimbabwe’s ruling party has won a majority of seats in Parliament, the electoral commission announced Wednesday, as the country braced for the first official results of the presidential election. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Mr Katsande gathered with others outside the headquarters of the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC), which has been accused by Mr Chamisa and the MDC of working in collusion with the ruling Zanu-PF party.

“The vote had been hijacked and we went to Rainbow Towers (where ZEC was based) to show our displeasure. The police used teargas and water cannons on us to break up our demonstration. But the real problem started when the troops turned up. We were running away when they started firing and my friends and others got hurt,” he recalled.

“All I did was demonstrate, which is my right, so how am I guilty of anything? They are targeting people who backed MDC.”

Mr Mnangagwa, who was one of Mr Mugabe’s closest allies but played a key role in his overthrow when the two men fell out, has presented an image of magnanimity after his victory. After winning the count on the presidential poll he tweeted: “Although we were divided at the polls, we are united in our dreams. This is a new beginning, let us join hands in peace, unity & love to build a new Zimbabwe for all.”

However the MDC headquarters have been raided, with people arrested and computers seized. And, on Friday, police charged into the Bronte Hotel in the centre of Harare, where Mr Chamisa was due to hold a press conference and ordered journalists, international observers and human rights activists to leave.

Riot police enter the Bronte hotel, where Mr Chamisa had been due to speak (AP)
Riot police enter the Bronte hotel, where a press conference by opposition leader Nelson Chamisa was scheduled to take place, in Harare, Zimbabwe, Friday Aug. 3, 2018. Hours after President Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared the winner of a tight election, riot police disrupted a press conference where opposition leader Nelson Chamisa was about to respond to the election results. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

The briefing eventually went ahead. Mr Mnangagwa said yet another inquiry will be launched into the raid, tweeting: “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. Over the past nine months we have protected freedom of speech and the right to criticise the government.”

Mr Chamisa, the president said, had an important role to play in the new Zimbabwe. But it has been claimed that a warrant has been issued against the MDC chief and other opposition leaders for “possession of dangerous weapons” and encouraging “public violence”, although no attempt has been made as yet to detain him.

The 27 who appeared in court on Saturday were arrested in the raid on the MDC headquarters on Thursday. Their legal team said that they would deny taking part in any act of violence and prove that they had been in the process of delivering results from the provinces.

The prosecution stated that formal charges will be laid next week. Magistrate Francis Vhitorni remanded the detainees in custody until Monday when they will reappear in court.