Military patrol: Members of the military patrol the streets of Harare, Zimbabwe, on Thursday. Picture: REUTERS /SIPHIWE SIBEKO
Military patrol: Members of the military patrol the streets of Harare, Zimbabwe, on Thursday. Picture: REUTERS /SIPHIWE SIBEKO

Harare — Zimbabwe’s capital remained on edge on Thursday, a day after the military shot dead three people during violent protests over election results, with most shops and banks in the centre of Harare shutting their doors as the streets teemed with police and soldiers.

The violence tarnished what had been a largely peaceful campaign and ballot and dented the incoming administration’s chances of reuniting the nation and rebuilding its economy.

With the ruling party winning almost 70% of the legislative vote and only partial presidential results released on Thursday night, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has cried foul, saying its own unofficial tallies from polling stations showed it had won.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa moved swiftly to restore calm and called for an independent investigation into the violence. He held talks with MDC leader Nelson Chamisa on ways to defuse the tension.

"We believe in transparency and accountability, and those responsible should be identified and brought to justice," Mnangagwa said on Twitter on Thursday. "The most important thing for us now is to move beyond yesterday’s tragic events and to move forward together."

The story of how Wednesday’s violence unfolded was related by four people familiar with the events, who spoke on condition of anonymity. They described how protests began peacefully, with the riot police who had been patrolling Harare’s city centre and securing access to the electoral commission’s office acting with restraint, joking and waving at members of the crowd.

The protesters mobbed the entrance to the commission’s office and the police, fearing that the building would be overrun, panicked and called for help from the presidential guard, a small military unit that has a permanent base close to police headquarters, they said.

Soldiers were sent to confront the demonstrators and several of them may have discharged their weapons into the air as a crowd-control measure, the people said. While the military’s own investigation is far from complete, several of its officers and ruling party officials suspect a single soldier may have been responsible for the fatal shootings, they said.

Video footage shown to Bloomberg by one of the people showed troops running towards a fleeing crowd of protesters, and a soldier shooting at them before being whipped by a superior and made to stop.

Government spokesman George Charamba told state television that Gen Phillip Valerio Sibanda, commander of the armed forces, told him no order had been given to open fire on the crowd.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission called for patience as it finalises the presidential election outcome, commissioner Qhubani Moyo said. Under the law, the commission has until Saturday to announce the results and is moving as fast as possible, he said.

Mnangagwa and Chamisa are the front-runners in the presidential race.