Violence has no place in Zimbabwe’s democratic future

Two weeks ago today, millions of Zimbabweans queued peacefully to cast their ballots in the freest and fair election our country has ever experienced. That day we saw what Zimbabwe should and can be. The following Wednesday, we saw what it must not be.

By S. B. Moyo

Protests turned violent in capital Harare. Six citizens lost their lives in the turmoil: a tragedy for their families, the nation and our democracy. It was not the election that Zimbabweans — buoyed by hope of a new era — had expected, nor our international partners.

What precisely happened remains unclear. President Mnangagwa has stated he shall institute an independent commission to investigate the episode. It will comprise both Zimbabweans and international experts to produce an account free from political influence. It is essential to establish these facts if our democratic journey is to continue.

For while accusations and counter-accusations reverberate across social and traditional media, we must not act in haste borne of allegation. This investigation must progress according to due process. It is times like these we must uphold the law, for now, it is most needed. And whatever the commission’s findings, they shall be fully implemented: the perpetrators — regardless of position or politics — shall be identified, held to account and face conviction for their actions.

However, whilst the unsanctioned violence is indefensible, we cannot let it eclipse the peoples’ democratic expression. The election process represented a landmark in Zimbabwe’s progress and development. Transition was never going to be easy. Yet the reforms that culminated in this momentous vote must be acknowledged.

Zimbabwe opened itself up to international scrutiny like never before: over 40 external sets of observers — totaling around 4,500 individuals — were invited by the administration to monitor the election. This was perhaps the most monitored election ever witnessed in Africa.

One was Nobel Peace Prize recipient and former President of Liberia. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared the election free and fair. She was co-lead of the joint international observer delegation of the United States’ International Republic Institute and the National Democratic Institute. Many local and international observers’ preliminary verdicts chimed with her assessment.

Yet this does not mean that some organizations did not find fault – including that of Mrs. Sirleaf. No electoral process is flawless. The consensus, however, was that the pre-election environment was peaceful, the polling process was transparent, and political contenders were free to campaign across the country unhindered.

The opposition leader’s cited injustices stand in contradiction to this. But perhaps his most important claim was outright victory in the presidential race before the votes were counted. He made clear that any other result otherwise would be — in his opinion — invalid.

The opposition are welcome to challenge the presidential result in court. Indeed, political stakeholders across the spectrum have urged them to rather than take to the streets. The allegations will then receive the scrutiny of court rather than the receptivity of the mob; the violent minority amongst the peaceful crowd.

The claim will then be decisively found void or justified. The government shall respect this verdict and implement it – just as it shall with the independent commission’s conclusion on the incidents following polling day. Then Zimbabwe can move forward.

Nevertheless, I feel confident that the court will not find in the opposition’s favor. Last Thursday, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission announced that Emmerson Mnangagwa returned 50.8 percent of the vote; the opposition leader 44.3 percent.

On Friday, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, a group of over 30 NGOs respected by foreign electoral observers, carried out independent poll sampling that corroborates this outcome; albeit with a 0.1-percent difference to the actual result. Furthermore, the ZEC has released individual polling station results on its website to promote transparency. Further scrutiny is welcomed.

Despite political differences, we must not weaken our grasp on that which is most important: maintaining peace. We must remember the peace pledge that as political parties we committed ourselves just two short months ago. In that spirit, we urge the opposition to accept the court’s ruling on their position.

Our judgment is reached; we must come together and rebuild the nation. The opposition will have a responsibility to challenge the government openly and transparently – as is their democratic duty — in parliament. This they owe to their supporters and to all Zimbabweans.

Over the past nine months, our nation has taken great strides upon the path of democracy. Along the way, there may be missteps. Yet the determination of the people to stay on route remains resolute. There is still much ahead of us. And now, united, we must ensure that nothing should block the way.

S. B. Moyo is the Zimbabwe Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.