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Violence follows peaceful elections in Zimbabwe


Soldiers fire on unarmed protesters, killing six

 By Doug Tilton, Special to the Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Brian Mazanhi, a pastor with the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa, celebrates the Lord’s Supper with his congregation in Budiriro in Harare, Zimbabwe. Photo by Doug Tilton

HARARE, Zimbabwe – Zimbabwe’s voters went to the polls in large numbers on Monday, July 30, in “harmonized elections” for president and members of Parliament. Domestic and international election observers commended the voting process as orderly and generally peaceful.

The mood soon began to sour, however. Early on Tuesday, July 31, Nelson Chamisa, the main opposition candidate representing the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance, took to Twitter to claim victory in the presidential race, despite the lack of official results from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).

In terms of Zimbabwe’s Electoral Law, the ZEC had until Saturday, Aug. 4, to validate results, and the commission had indicated prior to the poll that it expected that the process of counting and verification would make results unlikely before Friday.

However, MDC leaders began to portray the delay in the release of results as a sign that the ZEC — whose independence had long been questioned by some MDC supporters — was stalling as it sought ways to manipulate the outcome.

On Tuesday afternoon, the ZEC began to release partial results for those parliamentary constituencies where counting had been completed. These suggested that the ruling party, ZANU-PF, was on track to regain control of the legislature.

The following day, MDC supporters demonstrated in the capital, Harare, accusing the ZEC of rigging the election. Zimbabwe’s military, which had kept a low profile on polling day, was deployed in large numbers. The soldiers used disproportionate force to disperse the unarmed protesters, firing live ammunition and killing six.

The various international delegations in Zimbabwe to observe the poll issued a joint statement expressing “grave concern about the regrettable outbreaks of post-election violence.” At the same time, they condemned “vandalism and destruction of property and call[ed] on political party supporters to abide by the law.” They also urged the ZEC “to release the full and detailed results expeditiously, in a transparent and accountable manner.”

The ZEC ultimately released final polling results, including the presidential tallies, at 10 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 2. They concluded that Emmerson Mnangagwa, the ZANU-PF candidate who acceded to the presidency following Robert Mugabe’s resignation in November 2017, had obtained 50.8 percent of the vote, as opposed to 44.3 percent for Chamisa.

On Friday, the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) issued a pastoral statement to the nation at a press conference in Harare. The ZCC noted that several factors, including questions about ZEC impartiality, the perceived unevenness of the electoral “playing field,” and deep social polarization along ethnic, gender, class and urban/rural lines, contributed to “the sense that the electoral results would inevitably be contested.”

However, the council aligned itself with the findings of the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN), a coalition of 36 civil society organizations, including the ZCC, which fielded more than 2,000 electoral observers during the poll. ZESN’s own sample-based assessment of the election outcome was roughly equivalent to the official ZEC result.

The ZCC statement, which opened with a passage from Genesis (Gen. 21:15–19), included messages to all of the major actors. It urged ZANU-PF to “create avenues for inclusive dialogue and engagement as well as to heed the complaints raised by the MDC Alliance” and to “commit to a nation-building dialogue process.”

At the same time, it acknowledged the MDC’s “frustrations” with the electoral process but pressed the party to seek redress through proper legal channels. “In case the MDC Alliance does not trust to get a fair hearing in the courts, the church leadership makes itself available to facilitate other platforms of engagement as to bring mutually satisfactory closure to the current situation,” the ZCC added.

The council asked other countries “not to continue the isolation of Zimbabwe on the basis of shortcomings of this election.” Instead, it said: “We plead with the international community to continue accompanying our new government and civil society and churches with effort of strengthening these mutually enriching institutions for the maturation of our democracy.”

The statement recognized the security forces’ “contribution” to the events of November 2017, while also encouraging the president to initiate “broad-based security services reforms that will guarantee the professionalism of the security forces.”

Finally, the council shared a message of hope with the people of Zimbabwe. The statement returned to the opening passage’s story of Hagar, a concubine who was driven from her home, who called desperately to God when her child was on the verge of death from dehydration and who was told by God to look for a nearby spring.

“Two lessons are presented to us by this powerful story,” said ZCC General Secretary the Rev. Dr. Kenneth Mtata. “Peace is not going to be achieved in the absence of justice … [and] God is saying the solution is not far away. The fountain is just close by.”

“Let us all open our eyes,” Mtata concluded. “We have the solution. The solution lies not in our separation, but in our reconciliation on the basis of justice.”

Continuing electoral disputes seem likely to engage Zimbabwe’s courts for some time to come. On Monday, Aug. 6, 27 MDC activists appeared in court on violence charges linked to the Aug. 1 clashes with security forces in Harare. And MDC leaders have indicated that they are preparing to challenge the election results in court.

Please continue to uphold in prayer the people of Zimbabwe and our Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa and CCAP partners in the country as they work with the ZCC to promote peace with justice.

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