Tension mounts

Zim remains on knife-edge

The Daily News - Mugove Tafirenyika and Bridget Mananavire

2 September 2016

HARARE - There was palpable tension in the country's major metropolitan areas of Harare and Bulawayo yesterday, despite the grouping of 18 opposition parties operating under the banner of the National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera) cancelling today's planned mega demonstrations across the country after government banned protests.

The planned mass actions, which would have happened at a time that President Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu PF are facing growing public anger over the country's deepening political and economic rot, had seen law enforcement agents beefing up their patrol corps - amid clear indications that they were readying themselves for running battles with protesters.

A panicky government yesterday invoked Statutory Instrument 101a of 2016 which bans demonstrations for the next two weeks.

An extra-ordinary Government Gazette yesterday said: "The regulating authority, believing on reasonable grounds that the powers conferred by Section 26 of the Public Order and Security Act (Chapter 11:17) will not be sufficient to prevent public disorder being occasioned by the holding of processions or public demonstrations or any class thereof in the Harare Central Police District, hereby issues this Order prohibiting, for a period of two weeks from Friday the 2nd of September, 2016 to Friday, the 16th of September, 2016, the holding of all public demonstrations in the Harare Central Police District."

MDC secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora issued a statement yesterday confirming that the mega demonstration had been cancelled.

He said: "The government has issued Statutory Instrument 101a of 2016 banning all demos for two weeks. We do not have enough time to appeal against the instrument before tomorrow (today) hence we have been forced to postpone our intended demo to a later agreed date."

Earlier, MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu had confirmed to the Daily News that Nera had postponed to September 16 the mammoth demonstration that had been scheduled for today.

"The demonstrations that were scheduled to be staged countrywide on Friday (today) have now been postponed to Friday, September 16, commencing at 10h00 in the various cities and towns.

"The ZRP have demanded that all the political parties that are signatory to Nera should have given them adequate notice to stage the afore-mentioned demonstrations.

"As such, it has been agreed that the political parties will continue with the demonstrations on September 16. It is the constitutional right of all citizens of Zimbabwe to stage peaceful demonstrations," Gutu said.

On Friday, police ignored a court order and bludgeoned thousands of protestors who had gathered in Harare under the auspices of Nera, which is toyi-toying against the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission's (Zec's) secretariat on account of outstanding electoral reforms, ahead of the country's eagerly-anticipated 2018 national elections.

The heavily armed riot police - backed by armoured trucks and water cannons - indiscriminately fired volleys of teargas at all and sundry, battering and chasing around groups of determined opposition supporters to the shock of Zimbabweans.

Zanu PF youths had also threatened to deal with protestors by "whatever means necessary" if they went ahead with their planned demo today.

"If these small parties want a showdown with Zanu PF, let them try it tomorrow (today). We will show them that we are not afraid of anyone and that we are even prepared to seek police clearance so that we can engage in a fight with them," Zanu PF Youth League deputy secretary Kudzanai Chipanga told the Daily News.

"They should know that burning tyres and blocking roads is violence and as the ruling party we will not fold our arms and smile while they infringe on other people's rights in the name of them having a constitutional right to demonstrate.

"In that event, we will not have a choice but to stand up in defence of the people. We can even seek a court order so that we can have a real match with them if they want violence. We are not scared of them," Chipanga added ominously.

Similarly, police had also signalled their intention to foil the planned demos, with officers in Mutare flatly refusing to sanction today's marches.

The officer commanding Mutare District, Nyaradzo Mupita, said the situation was too volatile across the country for any demonstration to go ahead.

"The notice given is short. It does not allow the district to make adequate preparations in respect of resource mobilisation. The Posa (Public Order and Security Act) is mandatory in respect of the period of notice. As the regulatory authority, I do not have discretional powers in this instance.

"The route being taken is too long and as has been witnessed in previous demonstrations, free movement of other people and traffic was affected.

"The need to use one lane though it is emphasized is never observed.

"The chosen venue is a flea market; temptation for theft, looting and hooliganism is rife. The police thus do not approve the demonstration," Mupita said in a letter to Nera.

Earlier in the day, the MDC, which is a major Nera player, said it was "expecting a hostile and volatile atmosphere from both the police and Zanu PF".

"Zimbabwe is now a de facto police state, so the worst case scenario is to expect rogue elements within the police force, together with Zanu PF thugs and hooligans, to violently descend upon peaceful demonstrators.

"However, there's neither retreat nor capitulation. Defeat is not on the agenda. Surrender is not an option. The Zanu PF regime is cornered, desperate and intrinsically violent. Violence and thuggery is their default DNA mode.

"This is why we expect the regime to behave in its typically violent, intolerant and thuggish manner. However, the people of Zimbabwe will not be cowed into submission," Gutu said.

The secretary-general of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA), Victor Matemadanda, had also warned Zanu PF from provoking protesters, saying this could trigger violence.

"Zanu PF will regret playing the game that they are playing right now because the moment there are groups of people fighting each other, ordinary people will take sides and given the suffering they have endured so far, it is most likely that it will be a game of numbers and Zanu PF will be outnumbered," Matemadanda told the Daily News.

Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, is battling to contain swelling public anger against his administration's misrule, with Zimbabwe currently deep in the throes of a debilitating economic crisis which has resulted in thousands of companies closing their doors and hundreds of thousands of people losing their jobs over the past three years alone.

This has seen angry Zimbabweans holding protests across the country as they agitate for change, which analysts say could come at a heavy cost to both Zanu PF and the restive populace.

In July, riots also broke out in the border town of Beitbridge when angry traders protested against the government's ill-advised decision to ban the importation of basic consumer goods.

More than 70 people were arrested in the aftermath of those riots which destroyed property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, including the burning of a warehouse belonging to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra).

The riots later spread to Harare where police once again used force to break a demonstration called by commuter omnibus drivers and touts to protest too many police roadblocks on the roads which they said had become extortionate.

Meanwhile, the protests against Mugabe and Zanu PF have taken a new turn, with a group of Zimbabweans in the diaspora engaging United States President Barack Obama to pressure two international banks to starve Harare of cash.

In a social media drive, the Zimbabweans have been soliciting signatures for a petition to be handed over to Obama soon.

They want Obama's administration to force Standard Charted Bank International and Citibank to withdraw lending support to Afrexim Bank and Exim Bank of India, which they claim are extending lines of credit to Zimbabwe.

"We ask president Obama to direct Citibank and Standard Chartered Bank to cease doing business with AfreximBank in Africa and EximBank of India.

"EximBank of India has been continually supporting and sustaining brutality in Zimbabwe by providing financial aid for military equipment which is being used to suppress the people of Zimbabwe," the petition which requires 100 000, signatures reads.

In another plea to American authorities, a letter signed off by an individual called Concerned Zim Citizen has also made its way to the Congressional Black Caucus in the US.

According to the letter, the caucus was influential in getting Zimbabwe independent from Ian Smith's regime, and thus could again rescue Zimbabweans from the "oppressive" Mugabe administration.

"36 years later, Zimbabwe needs your support again. The Mugabe-led government that has been in power since independence has failed its people," the letter dated August 30 reads.

"The US rightfully implemented targeted sanctions in 2003 on certain members of our government who were undermining democratic institutions and processes in Zimbabwe. This has not been effective as the government has failed to reform. Furthermore they have failed to hold free and fair elections," it added. - with Bernard Chiketo in Mutare

Source: http://www.dailynews.co.zw/articles/2016/09/02/zim-remains-on-knife-edge