THE opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was last week forced to abandon a regional campaign strategic meeting for MPs in the three Matabeleland provinces after police attempted to force themselves into the venue at a Bulawayo
Police details from the law and order section pounced on the venue just a few minutes before the opposition legislators were due to begin a meeting called to discuss campaign strategies ahead of the election on March 31.
The MDC was forced to change the venue to the party headquarters after police refused to leave.
MDC spokesperson for Bulawayo province, Victor Moyo, said police behaviour was disgusting and interfered with their political activities.
“The police officers refused to budge despite our insistence that this was a strategic meeting that needed our senior members only and there was no way we could allow the police to sit through the meeting.
“They refused to sanction the meeting and insisted that they be allowed in. We had no option but to abandon the meeting temporarily until we moved to the party’s provincial headquarters,” Moyo said.
He said as a result, the party lost close to $6 million in venue booking fees and further expenses for booked meals and teas.
Police spokesperson, Wayne Bvudzijena, said when police attend public functions their role is to provide security to citizens and property.
“The police are always there at public meetings to protect citizens’ lives and property. To suggest that they would be there for other purposes is not right,” he said.
Moyo alleged that the police also stopped a road showboard the MDC had applied for in Nkulumane suburb on Saturday last week.
“The road showboard is an effective campaign tool because we will be moving along in vehicles displaying our banners and giving out fliers to the public. But the police barred us from having the road showboard alleging that it was likely to incite public violence,” said Moyo.
He said the MDC was not happy with the way the police handled its applications to hold meetings and rallies. He said Zanu PF did not even apply to the police to hold rallies.
“We have to approach the police four to five days before any meeting but Zanu PF is allowed to hold meetings any time they feel like without even notifying the police. Some of our meetings are not approved without any reasons given,” Moyo said.
Bvudzijena said it was not the duty of the police to stop a party from holding meetings.
“The police are only notified but they do not stop any meeting or rallies.
There are instances where some rallies clash and the police indicate alternative dates. They never force people to cancel meetings or rallies,” he said.
The police have in the past harassed and denied the opposition permission to hold rallies and meetings under the notorious Public Order and Security Act.
Just last week police arrested MDC members at a similar strategic meeting held at a Harare hotel.