TUESDAY was a dark day for three Chitungwiza school boys after they were rounded up by menacing police battling to put out a demonstration that was threatening to explode into a mass show of anger by long suffering residents.
BY OBEY MANAYITI
Lizbert Saruchera (15), Takudzwa Chirwadzimba (16) and Simbarashe Kwezaramba (19) spent two nights in police custody until they were rescued by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) who secured them bail.
The trio were arrested alongside 32 residents on charges of contravening Section 36 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act for allegedly committing public violence.
Their tribulations are far from over as they are expected back in court on January 21.
The arrests followed a demonstration by commuter omnibus operators who are not happy with fees charged by the Chitungwiza City Council.
The previous day three Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (RTUZ) leaders and a female activist were bludgeoned by the police after staging a demonstration described as a flop by the State-controlled media.
RTUZ leaders Obert Masaraure, Robson Chere and Pride Mukono had to receive urgent treatment at a Harare hospital after they were released on Tuesday.
Union leaders were protesting against government’s failure to pay civil servants 2015 bonuses on time.
The savage attacks left government critics convinced that President Robert Mugabe’s regime was ready to use strong arm tactics to deal with dissent as the country lurches from one crisis to another.
Analysts, opposition parties and civil groups said the government appeared to be in panic mode and was resorting to use of force due to failure to manage its affairs.
“There is precedence the world over that when a government cannot deliver in terms of its responsibilities it turns to oppression,” Gladys Hlatywayo, a Harare-based political analyst said.
“This is what we are seeing in our motherland. Citizens have a constitutional right to protest and demonstrate in instances where they are not happy with what the government is doing. The events over the past few weeks are regrettable.”
She said it was high time the government responded to citizen action and its failures with engagement and “not baton sticks and clenched fists.”
“We are facing serious challenges and even more challenges lie ahead,” Hlatywayo said.
ZimRights chairperson Passmore Nyakureba warned that things might not get better soon and opposition parties must brace for more such heavy handedness.
“The heavy champdown on peacefully demonstrating teachers who were exercising their Constitutional right to freedom of expressing themselves in that manner and the ruthless crushing of demonstrators by police in Chitungwiza is a worrisome harbinger of what is in the offing for Zimbabweans who might in the future want to freely express themselves through public demonstrations,” Nyakureba said.
“It is also time that Zimbabweans go to court over such abuse of the right to use of force by the police so as to instil discipline in the runaway police force. This culture of impunity must be nipped in the bud now before the 2018 elections, otherwise we are heading towards disaster.”
He added: “Our police must guard and protect human rights not abuse them.
“Unfortunately our police force has always been heavily politicised force applying the law selectively and this is clearly how projects like People First and any opposition politicians are going to be dealt with.”
ZLHR member Kennedy Masiye said police brutality must be condemned.
“What we have witnessed in the past few days is just police brutality and clear disregard of citizen’s constitutional right to demonstrate,” he said.
“The Constitution states that everyone has a right to demonstrate and petition,” he said, adding that it was bad for law enforcers to be seen breaching that right.
MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu said the government was in panic mode because of its failure to deliver on electoral promises.
“The Zanu PF regime is in panic mode. They know that the people of Zimbabwe are seething with anger because the government has dismally failed to deliver on its election promises such as the creation of 2,2 million jobs, the resuscitation of the agricultural sector, the improvement of the health delivery system among others,” Gutu said.
He said the world over; all repressive regimes never felt comfortable when people resorted to demonstrations.
“Isn’t it ironic that the very same government that has in the past ruthlessly and savagely clamped down on Zimbabweans gathering to pray for Itai Dzamara’s safe return is now calling upon Zimbabweans to pray for rain as well as for the country’s various socio-economic challenges to be redeemed?” Gutu asked.
Jacob Mafume of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) said Zimbabwe was in a catastrophic situation and at a dead end.
He accused President Robert Mugabe of going on a merrymaking holiday while the country was on fire.
In a statement the party encouraged people to stand up against any form of dictatorship.
“The clueless Zanu PF government, which has failed to turn around the economy, has instead opted for the people of Zimbabwe to live under a de-facto state of emergency where it is able to trample upon their rights every day,” Mafume said.
“The stone age mentality that the Zanu PF government has resorted to is totally uncalled for in a modern Zimbabwe.
“It is an affront to the people’s basic human rights. Therefore, the PDP salutes the bravery shown this week by the Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe Alliance Activists in standing up against the Zanu PF regime and demonstrated against the non-delivery and the substandard performance of the Zanu PF government.”
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC) said it was also concerned about the police brutality saying the government should be worried more about fixing the economy and not traumatising its people.
“(CiZC) would like to register its collective displeasure at the manner in which the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) has been responding to public demonstrations in the last few weeks,” CiZC spokesperson, Dumisani Nkomo said.
“We call upon the government to urgently address the bread and butter issues which have caused these Zimbabwean citizens to take to the streets.
“These issues include the late payment of civil servants salaries, the escalating cost of living and the general harsh economic conditions which have reduced most Zimbabweans to paupers.”
CiZC said police brutality will actually erode investor confidence in Zimbabwe.
Meanwhile, the MDC-T said it will this week hand over a petition to police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri demanding the arrest of Zanu PF activists who caused violence at the opposition party’s rallies in November in Harare South.
Gutu and provincial youth secretary Denford Ngadziore condemned police for alleged selective application of the law.