Zimbabwean police were at it again on Friday disrupting a legal demonstration by opposition parties and in the process igniting what turned out to be the largest and most violent demonstration to rock Harare in the past two decades.
The government had set the tone on the eve of the demonstration by 18 political parties under the auspices of the National Election Reform Agenda (Nera) and Coalition of Democrats (Code), with security ministers threatening to descend heavily on protestors.
Police went on to ignore a High Court order specifically instructing them not to interfere with the demonstration as the opposition supporters were exercising their democratic rights.
Angry protesters engaged in running battles with the overzealous police officers on the streets, hurling stones at the cops and burning tyres.
Cops fired teargas canisters at everyone, including people that were not part of the protest. The water cannons were emptied on the streets with reckless abandon.
The police failed to quell the demonstration even after employing the despicable tactics that had the hallmarks of the modus operandi of the rogue Ian Smith’s law enforcement agents.
Property was needlessly destroyed and many people were seriously injured in the skirmishes that could have been easily avoided if police had conducted themselves professionally.
Trouble started when police denied the parties under Nera and Code permission to march on the false pretext that the number of people that would turn up was too high.
We say the police excuse was disingenuous because only a few weeks ago they allowed thousands of Zanu PF supporters to march through the streets of Harare unhindered.
A few weeks before that, Zanu PF organised what it called the million-man march without breaking a sweat, yet opposition parties have to go to the High Court each time they want to exercise their freedoms.
The move by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) was unconstitutional as later affirmed by the High Court and going forward, the force must not be allowed to act in such a partisan manner.
Both the ZRP and the government represented by Home Affairs minister Ignatious Chombo, Sydney Sekeremayi (Defence) and Kembo Mohadi (State Security) must be held responsible for the violent disturbances.
President Robert Mugabe can also not escape blame because he has in the past encouraged this sort of criminal behaviour and as the appointing authority must take full responsibility for the actions of his appointees.
The government should stop its barbaric measures to suppress the rights of Zimbabweans exercising their constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly.
Zimbabwe is living in a globalised world and Mugabe’s regime should be forced to respect the country’s international human rights obligations or face isolation the same way Smith’s regime became a leper on the world stage.
Instead of trampling on Zimbabweans’ rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, Mugabe must engage citizens who are clearly disgruntled by his leadership failure.
The Zanu PF government must stop behaving as if its business as usual and act on the economic malaise, corruption and job losses.
Zimbabweans that pour onto the streets every day have legitimate grievances and the sooner Mugabe and his acolytes acknowledged that, the better for the country.
Zanu PF has failed dismally to deliver on its 2013 election promises, but the government cannot make those failures disappear by closing the democratic space for its opponents and brutalising citizens expressing their freedom of expression.
Rhodesian tactics will not work in modern Zimbabwe anchored on a new democratic Constitution that makes it difficult for dictators to thrive and where a police State is an anathema.