Four people were confirmed dead and scores injured in the riots that erupted in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare on Wednesday following the announcement of the preliminary results of Monday’s harmonised election.
The fear, however, was that the figure could rise as tension remained palpable.
Botswana’s Members of Parliament Botlogile Tshireletso and Sedirwa Kgoroba had formed part of the delegation of SADC Election Observer Mission (SEOM) under the aegis of SADC-Parliamentary Forum.
Holed in her hotel in Harare, Tshireletso told Botswana Guardian in a telephone interview that election observers gathered at the Harare International Convention Centre had to be whisked away to safety through the back by police escort to escape angry protestors gathered outside and baying for their blood.
Botswana’s High Commissioner to Zimbabwe General Matshwenyego Fischer also confirmed on Wednesday in a telephone interview that all Batswana working at the High Commission were safe. The envoy said he had also joined the briefing by observer mission at the convention centre to hear their respective findings when he was alerted by his driver of the demonstrations outside.
“We then left the place to our respective homes where we are following proceedings and what is taking place on television,” Fischer said. But the Local Government and Rural Development Assistant Minister’s account of the events was more dramatic.
Tshireletso, who had observed the election in Mashonaland West as team leader, said just after finishing their announcements at the convention centre, they were informed that there were protestors gathering outside and that they intended to block the election observers inside.
“We were escorted to use the back, but still our police escort was forced to use different routes and ultimately managed to take us to the hotel safely. The situation was unpleasant!” And indeed it was.
Video footages have captured soldiers shooting live bullets at the protestors, most of which are believed to belong to Nelson Chamisa’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) coalition.
All African Observer missions declared the Zimbabwe electionfree and fair while European Union (EU) held a contrary view. A preliminary report of SADC Election Observer Mission (SEOM) released on Wednesday gave Emmerson Mnangangwa’s ZANU PF 146 MPs against MDC’s 62.
During the press conference, the chairman of Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) briefed the observer missions that he already had the results but could not announce them as some of the candidates wanted to first verify them. Although the constitution states that the results can be released within four days, he had intended to release them on Wednesday.
This announcement triggered the riots. While Tshireletso maintained that the SADCP findings were that the election was free and fair, the mood on the ground told a different story. So bad was it that she said other election observers were forced to buy flight tickets to return to their respective countries on Wednesday.
“We are coming back home tomorrow (Thursday),” she said with a quivering voice.
Areas of improvement
Tshireletso said they had noticed some areas that require improvement. These include improving the communication strategy to make it more transparent and allowing all stakeholders to know who is printing the ballot papers and where they are kept after being printed ve the number of women candidates in line with the SADC quota of 30 percent. In that election Zimbabwe had two women presidential candidates, 240 aspirants for Parliament out of the 1631 MPs and only 1132 candidates for local government out of a total 6576 candidates.
However, SADC PF praised Zimbabwe for a nomination quota reserved for women depending on the performance of their respective parties.
They were also pleased with voter education which in their view was good as evidenced by the turnover at the polling stations with the majority being youth or relatively young people.
SADC PF also noticed that the electoral officers were sufficiently trained on time and prepared to man the polling stations and had enough manpower that were ready to assist at all times.
There were also specific lines reserved for pregnant women, elders, disabled and those with young babies. There was also a Multi Party Liaison Committee composed of all parties and voters were allowed to use either passport or ID and there was no wastage of materials as none was returned home.
In its draft statement, the SADC Electoral Observer Mission stated that the harmonised election of July 30, 2018 represents “a political watershed” in Zimbabwe’s history as they “open a new chapter” leading towards socio economic recovery and consolidation of democracy.