HARARE, Zimbabwe – Zimbabwean church leaders urged Sunday worshippers to pray for peace after disputed elections gave longtime President Robert Mugabe a landslide victory in the presidential and parliamentary vote.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe asked its followers Sunday to wait for “dialogue to resolve outstanding issues with self-control and tolerance.”
In pastoral messages given by priests, Roman Catholic churches, whose monitors criticized Wednesday’s voting for widespread irregularities, called on Catholics not to be “consumed by bitterness that leads to violence.”
“Peace in your heart brings calm. Trust and have faith,” said Fr. Charles Kanongwa, a church leader.
Preparing for possible disturbances, however, Zimbabwean police mounted extra roadblocks in the capital Sunday, some manned unusually by officers with automatic rifles. Troops were camped downtown where water canon trucks were also stationed.
Mugabe took 62 percent of the presidential vote compared to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s 34 percent, according to official results.
Tsvangirai rejected the vote as “a monumental fraud” and says he will challenge the results that also gave Mugabe’s party a two-thirds majority in the 210 seat parliament, enabling it to alter aspects of the country’s new constitution it opposed when the charter was being rewritten.
In the last elections in 2008, the opposition captured 111 seats to Mugabe’s 99. Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in the first round of that presidential vote but boycotted a run-off to protest an onslaught of violence against his supporters.
“It is inconceivable Tsvangirai could now have lost by such margin. I am in a state of shock and disbelief,” said Elizabeth Joseph, an Anglican worshipper in a well-to-do Harare suburb. “Our morning service has been more like a funeral.”
“A mountain has fallen on us and I don’t know how it can be moved,” said Caiphas Zimuto, a worshipper at a Harare Pentecostal church aligned to the Evangelical Fellowship, an umbrella organization for scores of revivalist churches outside the mainstream Roman Catholic and Anglican groups.
Regional southern African monitors and observers from the continentwide African Union have demanded investigations into allegations of inflated voting by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and the absence of an estimated 700,000 names of eligible voters from voters’ lists.
While voting was largely peaceful on polling day, a complete audit of the lists and votes cast could take weeks, even if the official state election commission dominated by Mugabe supporters makes them available, independent observers say.
Mugabe’s party denies vote rigging and says Mugabe, 89, could be sworn in for his seventh term in office since independence in 1980 after nine days are allowed for legal challenges to the voting outcome.
South African President Jacob Zuma, the chief regional mediator in Zimbabwe’s decade-long political and economic crisis, congratulated Mugabe on his election victory and sought acceptance of the result from the losers, according to a statement issued from his office.
Mugabe’s state radio on Sunday quoted Sydney Sekeramayi, his state security minister, saying voters gave the mandate to ZANU-PF to roll out and complete its massive black empowerment program that envisions taking over control of at least 1,100 businesses and companies that remain in the hands of foreign owners and the nation’s small white community.
Critics of black empowerment and the often violent seizures of thousands of white owned farms since 2000 say few outside an elite of Mugabe party leaders and loyalists have benefited and many prime farms lie idle and several key blue-chip industries have gone into liquidation in the embattled economy.
Alfred Ndlovu, an executive with a chain of Harare food stores open for Sunday shoppers, said only inflows of new foreign investment would likely be able to rebuild the economy.
“From where I am sitting, that’s not going to happen,” he said.
Zimbabwe faced a return to empty store shelves and long gasoline lines that were seen before regional leaders forced Mugabe into a shaky coalition with Tsvangirai after the violent polls of 2008, warned Ndlovu.
“We could reach a critical mass where Mugabe can’t deliver,” he said, “and people won’t tolerate it again.”