Zimbabwe’s security forces have stepped up violent reprisals against opposition supporters, days after President Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared the winner of a disputed election.
Soldiers and police have detained and beaten dozens of backers of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change in an apparent effort to cripple their ability to contest last week’s result which favoured Mr Mnangagwa and the ruling Zanu-PF party, MDC members and independent activists said.
The violence has undermined prospects for the southern African nation’s reopening since the fall of Robert Mugabe, the strongman of four decades.
Mr Mnangagwa officially secured 51 per cent of the vote — the first election since an army coup that toppled Mr Mugabe last year and installed the 75-year-old former spy chief in his place. He is seeking international legitimacy to secure billions of dollars in investment needed to fix decades of economic mismanagement.
But accusations of vote-rigging by Nelson Chamisa, the MDC leader who claims to have been the victor, have been met with a brutal crackdown. Last week riot police stormed a press conference by Mr Chamisa while Mr Mnangagwa’s own presidential guard shot protesters in the capital, Harare, killing at least six people.
Amnesty International said that more than 60 people have been arbitrarily arrested in what its southern African director, Deprose Muchena, called “a vicious campaign of torture, intimidation and suppression of dissenting voices”.
There is “real fear” as more and more party members are being detained in unknown locations, said Nkululeko Sibanda, Mr Chamisa’s spokesperson. Tendai Biti, a senior MDC figure, said he had narrowly escaped “abduction” on Friday and had gone into hiding.
Mr Mnangagwa has pledged an independent investigation into last week’s shootings. But the mounting crackdown has come amid signs of a split within the security forces over the vote’s aftermath.
The brutality bears the hallmarks of Constantino Chiwenga, the former commander of the armed forces who led the coup and became Mr Mnangagwa’s vice-president, said Fidelis Mudimu, director of the Counselling Services Unit,an NGO that deals with victims of political violence. Some observers see Mr Chiwenga as the power behind the throne in what is effectively a military junta and say that he is in control of the presidential guard.
“There is a splinter in the army that is loyal to their former commander, the current vice-president,” while other units remain loyal to Philip Sibanda, head of the armed forces, Mr Mudimu said. “These splits can break out into violence any time. Mnangagwa has to sort this out quickly.”
Mr Biti, who was a technocratic finance minister in a brief unity government formed after disputed elections in 2008, said the crackdown reflected “the complete and utter militarisation of Zimbabwe” as well as Mr Chiwenga’s influence.
Mr Biti said he believed another coup was imminent.
Last week Sibusiso Moyo, Zimbabwe’s foreign minister, said the army’s crackdown was justified by the protesters’ behaviour.
“Unfortunately, people are not experienced in having such freedom… they interpret freedom to mean anarchy,” said Mr Moyo, a former army officer who announced last year’s military takeover to the world. Mr Moyo denied any split in the government. But he was unable to confirm whether Mr Mnangagwa had been briefed beforehand on the deployment of his presidential guard.
On Harare’s streets, the crackdown appears to be having the desired effect. “People are intimidated not to protest. Soldiers are beating down any sign of that,” said Desire, a 26-year-old street vendor.
– Financial Times