Soldiers beat a supporter of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) outside the party's headquarters as they await election results in Harare, Zimbabwe, on Tuesday. Picture: REUTERS/MIKE HUTCHINGS
Soldiers beat a supporter of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) outside the party's headquarters as they await election results in Harare, Zimbabwe, on Tuesday. Picture: REUTERS/MIKE HUTCHINGS

Change came to Zimbabwe last November when tanks rolled into Harare to end the brutal 37-year rule of Robert Mugabe.

Yesterday the tanks rolled again — this time to kill the hopes of millions of Zimbabweans who had dared to hope for real change.

As people were faced with the prospect of yet another stolen election, protesters spilled into the streets of Harare, and the police and army were dispatched to deal with them.

Six people have been killed and several injured. Ugly scenes of armed soldiers shooting and beating unarmed civilians flashed around the world. Water cannons and tear gas were fired to disperse crowds of disappointed people who had believed that change would come at last as a result of these post-Mugabe elections.

Zimbabweans were cheated in 2008 when Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC won the first round of the elections.

Despite the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission cooking the books and delaying the announcement of the results for a whole month, there were no demonstrations. People just grumbled and went about their daily business.

In 2013, the opposition, civil society and international human rights groups produced evidence of massive electoral fraud — but again there were no major protests.

This time it’s different. Robert Mugabe has gone — removed in a "smart" coup by his right-hand man, Emmerson Mnangagwa, last November. For the first time in 38 years his name was not on the ballot paper, and people believed things would be different.

The disappointment of yet another stolen election has been too much for them this time around. Initial results showed that the MDC was doing well and that their candidate, the youthful Nelson Chamisa who took over when founding party president Tsvangirai died earlier this year, would win.

He had drawn massive crowds to his rallies all around Zimbabwe — including in rural areas which for decades had been completely closed to the MDC by Zanu-PF activists with the connivance of the police.

The polls were peaceful and the country was full of hope. Then it all came unstuck when the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission declared it would not announce the results of the presidential election province by province as usual, but only after all the votes had been counted.

ZEC is a discredited body. It has behaved appallingly throughout this election and before — neither transparent nor reasonable, and demonstrating unashamed bias towards Zanu-PF.

To give him his due, Mnangagwa has done his best. He preached and demonstrated peace throughout the campaign period. He worked hard to win back the West that had been vilified for years by Mugabe. He actively sought the investment Zimbabwe so desperately needs to reverse the economic decline caused by Mugabe’s corruption, patronage and human rights abuses.

But the people have been robbed again. The difference is that there is a new generation of young people who grew up under Mugabe who are now guardians of their vote. And they have had enough of oppression, joblessness and grinding poverty under Mugabe’s tyrannical rule. This time around people are determined to defend their vote.

The opposition and civil society have documented anomalies in the election and the counting process over the past three days, and there is considerable evidence to show that the election has been rigged. To give just one example, the law requires ZEC to display the results at each polling station immediately after the count. They failed to do this at 7% of polling stations.

Even if Zanu-PF did win, there is no way they could have won by a two-thirds majority given the hundreds of thousands of people who attended Chamisa’s rallies, dressed in MDC party regalia in the rural areas — something never seen before.

With the speedy deployment of the police and army, shooting to kill, onto the streets of Harare within a few hours of protests beginning, it seems the bad old days of Mugabe are back.

It is a tragedy that the veneer of tolerance has gone already – so early into Mnangagwa’s reign.

• Mbanga is the editor of The Zimbabwean.