Protesting escalates

Nation heeds stay away call


July 7, 2016 in National, News

Zimbabwe yesterday came to a virtual standstill, as people largely heeded a call to stay at home to protest against President Robert Mugabe’s failed policies, worsening economic crisis and corruption in one of the country’s most extraordinary days.

Riot police officers assaulted a resident, as he was walking home in Mufakose, Harare, yesterday

In areas where there was unrest, the police predictably used brute force, while people fought back, as the protests that started in Beitbridge, before moving to Harare swept across the country.

Yesterday’s protests, co-ordinated by #ThisFlag and supported by Tajamuka/Sesijikile, Occupy Africa Unity Square and all opposition parties, brought the country to a halt.

#ThisFlag front-man, Evan Mawarire said he was humbled by the response.

“We could not have asked for any better. Zimbabweans have sent out a clear message that they are fed up with a system that protects thieves and corrupt government officials,” he said.

“I am proud to be a Zimbabwean today. This is the least that is expected of us. We have issues and government must address them.”

But the heavy police and military presence in most cities confirmed that government had panicked and feared the protests could turn into another “Arab Spring” and topple the Zanu PF regime.

Police spokesperson, Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba said 19 people, among them Occupy Africa Unity Square movement leader, Linda Masarira, were arrested in Budiriro and Mufakose suburbs, where protesters had used boulders to block traffic.

“Police moved in to remove the barricades and in the process arrested 19 protesters. The police arrested six in Budiriro and 13 in Mufakose, among them Masarira, for throwing stones at police and burning vending stalls,” she said.

“The situation still remains generally calm, but we have had some skirmishes in Budiriro 5, Mufakose and Warren Park D.”

In Bulawayo, protesters marched towards the central business district, but were repelled by a reinforced police force. Instead, they burnt tyres on Sixth Avenue Extension, looted shops and fought running battles with the police, as tensions rose.

Business ground to a halt in Harare as most businesses were closed, with the streets deserted and informal traders staying home.

Mbare’s Mupedzanhamo informal market, usually a hive of activity, Machipisa and the Glen View Complex were eerily quiet, with little or no activity.

Roads were littered with rocks in Glen Norah, and in Warren Park youths burnt tyres in the streets.

Harare Central Hospital was only attending to emergencies, with nurses reportedly assessing if one was eligible for medical assistance. A NewsDay crew witnessed a number of people being turned away.

In some areas, the situation resembled “war zones” after police indiscriminately harassed people and briefly detained journalists at Marimba Police Station in Harare.

“Police are at the centre of the chaos here. They are throwing teargas at onlookers, but is it a crime to peep at police while they pass by? They are picking up any young person,” a Mufakose resident said.

A young man was battered and left with a deep cut above the eye.

In Budiriro, market stalls were burnt down by unknown youths, but witnesses blamed the ruling Zanu PF party’s local structures for the arson.

Tear-smoke billowed everywhere around Mufakose, as police engaged in cat-and-mouse games with hordes of youths, who littered the streets with dirt and barricaded roads.

By midmorning, police had ordered all shops to close.

Three NewsDay journalists covering the protests were detained for an hour and forced to delete “offending images”, but were later released without charge.

The Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ), in a statement, condemned the police action.

“The union notes with concern the continued acts of impunity by the Zimbabwe Republic Police and would want to urge them to desist from arresting journalists while doing their work,” ZUJ said.

“The continued harassment of journalists is another spectacular own goal scored by the police, as it only serves to portray Zimbabwe as a lawless country.”

In Mabvuku, following the Monday chaos, the situation was calm after authorities deployed military police overnight, but shops in the high-density suburb remained closed.

In Manicaland, Provincial Affairs minister Mandi Chimene used State radio to urge people to defy the call to protest, but that all fell on deaf ears.

The city’s biggest bus terminus was littered with hordes of stranded travellers after transporters withdrew their buses.

Pro-democracy groups in Masvingo, led by the Masvingo Residents and Ratepayers’ Alliance (Murra) and Community Tolerance, Reconciliation and Development, distributed flyers in the city’s residential areas urging people to heed the shutdown call.

“We applaud the people of Masvingo for heeding the call to stay away in protest over the decaying economy and misgovernance by Zanu PF,” Murra director, Anoziva Muguti said.

Police allegedly shot at a car belonging to an ordinary citizen in Kwekwe, as tempers flared in the Midlands city.

“These guys were driving through the city and slowed down on seeing burning tyres along Harare Road. Plainclothes police officers arrived, pulled out their guns and shot at the car’s tyres,” a witness said.

“They claimed they were looking for a blue car and walked away. What can we do, they are in charge?”

The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) yesterday said it had dispatched some of its lawyers to represent people who had been arrested during the protests.

The organisation said it was assisting four people in Bulawayo, six in Zvishavane and 16 in Victoria Falls.

ZLHR said it was also representing some people in Masvingo and Chipinge, who were arrested during the protests.