Chaos Grips Zimbabwe Capital as Post-Vote Protests Turn Ugly

(Bloomberg) -- Zimbabwe’s capital descended into chaos Wednesday as hundreds of opposition supporters staged protests over the results of this week’s elections, with soldiers firing live rounds to disperse them.

The demonstrations were concentrated around the Harare International Conference Centre, where the election tallies are being collated and announced. The main gate was sealed off by two water cannons backed up by scores of riot police, carrying shields and batons. The protesters used rocks and tree branches to barricade roads, and upended trash cans. Police sirens could be heard across the city center.

Chaos Grips Zimbabwe Capital as Post-Vote Protests Turn Ugly

“I saw the soldiers open fire,” said Jojo Nyika, who sells vegetables on Harare’s 4th Street and took part in the protest. “A man dropped to the ground as he was fleeing. He’s dead. Because why? Because they’re thieves. They stole an election, which is a thing they do.”

Three news photographers said they’d seen people who’d been injured by live rounds and displayed the pictures on their cameras. Armored cars and trucks mounted with water cannons drove through the streets of the city, and a military helicopter circled overhead. Later in the afternoon, about 30 troops walked the streets surrounding the conference center, clearing away rocks and other debris.

‘Not Zimbabweans’

“These are hooligans, these are not Zimbabweans,” student Tedious Merino, 28, said of the protesters during a lull in the clashes. “Zimbabweans are not known for acting this way.”

The army’s presence on the streets is to ensure law and order is maintained, not to intimidate people, Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi told eNCA, a Johannesburg-based broadcaster. Police spokeswoman Charity Charamba told Zimbabwe’s state broadcaster that police asked for military assistance after being “overwhelmed” by violent protesters.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa blamed MDC officials for the violence, which, he said in a statement, “they have aided and abetted.”

While the election campaign and Monday’s balloting was largely peaceful, opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader Nelson Chamisa alleged there’s been an attempt to rig the outcome in favor Mnangagwa, whose ruling party has won a majority in the parliamentary vote. The MDC has also questioned the pace of releasing tallies from the presidential vote, which haven’t been announced yet.

“Violence is never acceptable,” Fadzayi Mahere, an independent parliamentary candidate and lawyer who lost her bid for a seat in Harare, said in a Twitter posting. “However, law enforcement is the role of the police force in terms of the constitution. It is unbelievable that, on day one, before the sun has set, they’d unleash the army on civilians.”

The vote was the first since the ruling party forced Robert Mugabe to quit as president after 37 years in office after the military briefly seized control of the country.

“This is the new Zimbabwe though it is what we voted against,” said Frank Goredema, who joined the protests. “Soldiers beat me with rifle butts, yet I’m unarmed. The election is just a joke for Zanu."

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.