Harare residents fear violence as questions simmer over Zimbabwe election

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By Webdesk

Harare, Zimbabwe – Rising political tensions in the Southern African nation have spawned fears of post-election violence among residents in the capital Harare, as ballot tabulation continues a day after voting ended.

Zimbabwe held general elections on Wednesday and Thursday, pitting President Emmerson Mnangagwa against Nelson Chamisa of the Citizens Coalition for Change, the main opposition party.

Residents of Harare’s sprawling high-density suburbs such as Budiriro, Glen View, Highfield, Mufakose and Kuwadzana — as well as urban centres like Chitungwiza — had virtually locked themselves indoors by 6pm as anxieties gripped the nation. Only a handful of people were seen sauntering home.

“It’s like there is a 6pm curfew,” Anesu Munodawafa, a Kuwadzana resident, said.

Zimbabwe has a history of both pre- and post-election violence, which has fed concerns that government authorities would use force to quell any protests, particularly from the opposition.

The Citizens Coalition for Change has already indicated it believes it won this week’s presidential election. Early polls showed the ruling party, Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), in a tight race with the coalition.

Mnangagwa and Chamisa previously ran against each other in 2018, in another hotly contested presidential election. The resulting protests turned deadly, with soldiers opening fire on demonstrators and bystanders, killing six.

Residents fear a similar violence may occur again this year, as questions swirl about election integrity.

A visit to Kuwadzana, Mufakose, Budiriro and Glen View, suburbs south of the capital, showed that the streets were deserted on Friday night, with many nightclubs closed.

In Kuwadzana, a popular nightspot, usually packed with patrons, was deserted around 8pm. A huge lock had been placed on the main entrance. Only two shops and one pub were open out of more than eight at the local shopping centre. It was the same in most surrounding towns.

Esma Ncube, a vendor at the shops, expressed fear of possible violence but insisted she needed to work to keep food on the table for her family.

“The police can come here anytime so I am always ready to run,” she told Al Jazeera, holding a plastic bucket containing eggs.

According to her, plain-clothed police officers indiscriminately assaulted patrons at the bars on Thursday and forced closures.

Several other incidences of police brutality have been reported in various towns around Harare since election day.

In the capital, a heavy presence of anti-riot police patrolled the streets. Al Jazeera spotted baton-wielding officers walking along Second Street in uptown Harare.

A woman walks by a giant billboard of Zimbabwe's president Emmerson Mnangagwa, with a QR code at the bottom.
A billboard advertises the campaign of President Emmerson Mnangagwa ahead of the general elections on August 22 [File: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters]

Authorities on Friday barricaded the N1 highway that leads to Harare’s Central Business District (CBD) and created a detour. Several anti-riot policemen stood behind a steel barricade erected on the highway late afternoon and redirected traffic to the city’s periphery. The barricaded road leads to the offices of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), the body running the country’s elections.

A 2023 survey from the nonprofit research network Afrobarometer found that only 51 percent of Zimbabweans trust the ZEC to hold credible polls, while 49 percent said incorrect results were likely.

Already, the Southern African Development Community, a grouping of southern African nations, has highlighted alleged voter discrimination and other irregularities with the election.

Critics have also raised concerns about an August 23 raid on the offices of Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) and Election Resource Centre (ERC), two election-monitoring nonprofits. Police seized computers and materials from the offices and arrested 40 workers.

The charges against the nonprofit workers were not made public at the time of their arrest, and they have yet to appear in court.

A wig salesperson has a row of mannequin heads in front of her. Behind her is a wall covered with campaign advertisements.
A wig salesperson sits beneath campaign ads in the capital Harare on August 25, as vote tabulation in the general elections continue [Philemon Bulawayo/Reuters]

Harare-based political analyst Rashwhit Mukundu said the police officers’ raid was a show of force meant to silence dissent. He called it a “brazen electoral-rigging strategy”.

“It is in preparation to announce results that are favourable to ZANU-PF and forestall any attempt by the opposition to protest. It is also an attempt to cover electoral illegalities and irregularities by the demonstrating force and pre-empting any attempts by the opposition to raise concerns,” Mukundu told Al Jazeera via a messaging service.

Mukundu also said the arrest of ZESN and ERC workers was illegal, adding they were accredited for the work they were doing.

“What they were doing is what they have always done in the open, and there was nothing strange [in what] they were doing,” he said.

Instead, Mukundu called the arrests a witch hunt and an “attempt to shift blame for its failures and trying to find scapegoats”.

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