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November 13, 2018

Zimbabwe enters a new era, but struggles to escape its past

Some of the 16 people detained after police sealed off the building of Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) on Thursday, appear in court in the capital Harare, Zimbabwe, August 4, 2018. /REUTERS
Some of the 16 people detained after police sealed off the building of Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) on Thursday, appear in court in the capital Harare, Zimbabwe, August 4, 2018. /REUTERS

The deadly violence that followed Zimbabwe's first election since Robert Mugabe was ousted has created tension in a country that was hoping to put its past behind it, says BBC Africa editor Fergal Keane.

The political drama in this country has oscillated between euphoria, tragedy and farce - from a remarkably peaceful election day, to the shooting down of unarmed protesters, to the extraordinary sight of a president disowning the actions of his own police.

Each day has produced the unexpected and created a febrile atmosphere in which questions about who really controls this country have deepened.

Is it Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took over as president after the military takeover in November and won Monday's disputed presidential vote, or hardliners steeped in the brutal practices of the Mugabe era?

Signals of hope

Events since the vote have not inspired much faith.

Soldiers beat civilians in several opposition strongholds of the capital, Harare.

I met a young man whose body was covered in bruises after being thrashed by the army when they attacked a bar.

Outside our hotel in central Harare colleagues witnessed policemen beating two men for no apparent reason.

This was the behaviour of armed men who believed they could act with impunity.

Far from the land of hope President Mnangagwa wishes to project, division appears to be the defining dynamic.

Yet there were some hopeful signals too on Friday, such as the appearance of a government minister instructing riot police to allow a press conference to go ahead and opposition leader Nelson Chamisa's explicit disavowal of violent behaviour by his MDC Alliance supporters.

These point to the influence of more moderate voices on both sides.

'Learn lessons'

The MDC Alliance challenge to the election result will take the focus away from the streets and within that party there is already a process of self-questioning.

Senior figures have spoken to me of the need to "learn lessons from this defeat".

How many votes were lost because of party divisions?

The party's dalliance with Mr Mugabe, 94, in the closing days of the campaign placed politics above democratic ideals and probably cost rather than gained votes.

In the days after the vote Mr Chamisa pre-emptively declared victory and began claiming a massive fraud.

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