A Zimbabwean court on Monday convicted and fined Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) deputy chair Tendai Biti $200 for declaring Nelson Chamisa the winner of 2018’s hotly disputed elections.

Biti, who has been arrested several times in what is widely seen as political persecution of the opposition, escaped jail after Harare magistrate Gloria Takundwa sentenced him to a $200 fine on the first count of announcing results and a suspended six-month jail term on the second count of declaring Chamisa the winner.

Takundwa ruled that Biti’s actions had the potential to undermine the official announcement by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC). 

“The accused announced that they had results that showed that the next president of Zimbabwe is Nelson Chamisa at which time ZEC had not finished collating results,” the magistrate said.

“Evidence from the state’s four witnesses was not discredited. The accused in his testimony said he held a press conference to compel ZEC to quickly announce results. The intention of the act is to prevent such behaviour exhibited by the accused which undermines the authority of ZEC,” she said.

During the trial, the court heard that a day after voting on July 31 2018, the firebrand politician called a press conference at which he declared that figures collated by the MDC’s election agents at voting centres showed that Chamisa had won the election with a wide margin. He called on the ZEC to release election results which he said would confirm his assertions. 

The ZEC delayed announcing the final results until riots broke out in Harare, leading to the deployment of the army. Six people were killed and dozens were shot in a military crackdown that caused global outrage.

Meanwhile,  Mnangagwa on Monday retired four army generals, in the first major shake-up of the armed forces since he took office.  The quartet’s removal coincided with the absence abroad of vice-president Constantino Chiwenga — the retired general responsible for ousting former president Robert Mugabe in November 2017 and now widely viewed inside the country as the power behind Mnangagwa’s administration.

All four generals will be appointed to diplomatic posts overseas. 

Mnangagwa has been under increasing pressure to take action over allegations of brutality by the security forces since a second crackdown in January, triggered by a sharp hike in fuel costs that he had decreed.
- with Reuters