Zimbabwe was yesterday tense and resembled a war zone, with police officers opening fire as they fought running battles with protesters in residential areas around Harare.
STAFF REPORTERS/OWN CORRESPONDENTS
The protests took place in several cities and towns in Zimbabwe amid reports of hordes of opposition supporters being arrested. Gunfire was heard in some areas as police used live bullets, apparently firing into the air to scare away protesters, who in many cases continued to advance towards retreating police.
The protests were organised by the National Election Reform Agenda (Nera) and were spread countrywide, with the result that police reaction teams appeared overwhelmed in some instances. Protesters are pushing for electoral reforms among other concerns against the rule of President Robert Mugabe’s government.
In many parts of Harare and other cities and towns, riot police in armoured vehicles and water cannons were seen patrolling the streets.
There were also reports that soldiers and Zanu PF militia had been terrorising people since Friday night as they tried to instil fear into would-be demonstrators.
However, spontaneous protests started yesterday mid-morning around the country and they were sporadic in nature. They turned into vicious running battles in some areas where police had to fire gunshots to force advancing demonstrators to retreat.
In other parts of the country demonstrations failed to kick off after police and militias sealed off the routes that were going to be followed by the protestors.
Yesterday’s demonstration came following yet another Nera protest march last month that turned violent after police attacked peaceful protesters.
Yesterday in Harare several high-density areas were turned into war zones as police struggled to disperse the demonstrators.
In Epworth The Standard witnessed an incident where police intercepted the demonstration but when they saw several pockets of determined resistance they fired numerous shots into the air. They only managed to break the demonstration after threatening they would fire live bullets into the demonstrators.
In Mabvuku and Tafara, several people were left injured as police applied brute force to break the demonstration.
Police caught up with demonstrators on their way to Old Tafara where they ordered every protestor to get into their lorry. When the protestors refused, baton wielding officers descended on them before they dispersed in different directions.
The few who were arrested were later released.
In Kuwadzana police also fired gunshots into the air to scare protestors while in Waterfalls police intercepted the demonstrators near the police station and indiscriminately assaulted them before arresting about 10 of them.
Kuwadzana legislator and MDC-T vice president Nelson Chamisa described police’s action yesterday as brutal, callous and savage.
“Citizens are very peaceful. Residents are very law abiding and for some reasons it appears there are people who tarnish the image of our police force by using terror tactics where there is no need for such things,” Chamisa said while accusing police of turning Kuwadzana into a warzone.
“This behaviour is a cause of concern. This must worry those in government and those outside the government. That kind of behaviour is not good. We should not become legendary in heavy handedness in treating citizens.”
He added: “No government can sustain existence on the basis of terror, fear and force. All deaf governments are always short lived and the sooner this government listens to the people the better.”
In an interview yesterday NERA convener and ZimPF elder Didymus Mutasa described Mugabe’s administration as “boyish” in character over its prolonged unprovoked attacks on citizens.
“I don’t quite understand why Mugabe’s administration is boyish. Those who work for Mugabe used tear gas and beaten up people doing a peaceful march. When this is presented to the international community it will tarnish Mugabe’s image,” Mutasa said.
“Mugabe is doing the same thing that (former Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian) Smith did to him on Tsvangirai and Amai Mujuru. I don’t quite understand why his administration is doing this.”
In Bulawayo hundreds of opposition supporters marched from Lunar park in Masotsha Avenue through Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo street to the Bulawayo City Hall where they handed over a petition to MPs to take to parliament.
The demonstration was attended by several opposition leaders from various political parties including MDC-T vice President, Thokozani Khupe, MDC-T chairman, Lovemore Moyo, MDC Director of Strategy Ellen Shiriyedenga and Zapu Secretary General Strike Mkandla.
Addressing protestors during the march, Khuphe said the time had come for opposition parties “to draw a line in the sand and say never again will we allow an election without reforms.”
“We want the whole of the ZEC administration to be disbanded, totally; so that we have a non-partisan and professional commission. Police and other security forces should play their part in a non-political and non-partisan manner. Their role is to promote peace and order, not to beat people up,” Khupe said.
In Chinhoyi riot police swiftly moved in at Gwayagwaya business centre and dispersed some opposition supporters who had gathered to protest.
By midday more than 10 people had been arrested and were being held at Chinhoyi Central police station without charge.
Among those arrested were MDC-T Chinhoyi District youth chairperson Garikayi Dendera who was picked up while on his way to the demonstration venue.
On Friday night suspected Zanu PF militia attacked houses belonging to top MDC-T and Zimbabwe People First (ZimPF) provincial members. The suspects stoned the houses in the middle of the night, breaking windows, presumably to instil fear before today’s protests.
Officials whose houses were damaged include ZimPF Provincial Women secretary Hilda Musendami and Willie Nyambe MDC-T Chinhoyi district chairperson.
On Friday night police rounded up opposition leaders in Kadoma in an apparent move to instil fear in protestors ahead of yesterday’s demonstration.
In Karoi and other parts of Mashonaland West government reportedly deployed armed soldiers and riot police while several opposition activists were arrested.
A survey conducted by The Standard in Karoi’s oldest suburb of Chikangwe revealed that anti-riot police were deployed around 7.30 am while state militia were on the prowl in the suburb.
By mid-morning heavily armed soldiers were seen patrolling the suburb as terrified residents watched.
Police also clamped hard on demonstrators in Mutare resulting in the arrest of Mutasa Central legislator Trevor Saruwaka. According to Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, police arrested several people including legislators as they sought to thwart the demonstration.
In Gwanda, Matabeleland South province, police detained MDC Gwanda Central MP Nomathemba Ndlovu, prominent pro-democracy campaigner Kukhanyakwenkosi Mkandla, Solani Moyo and 14 others who were only released after the intervention of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) and Abammeli Human Rights Lawyers.
In Midlands province ZLHR lawyers were also deployed to offer emergency legal services to some Zvishavane residents who were arrested for participating in the demonstrations.
Scores of protestors were also arrested in Harare including Harare Senator Ronia Bunjira. Glen View North MP Fani Munengami was also reportedly thoroughly beaten by police.
Contacted for comment, National Police spokesperson, Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba referred questions to Chief Superintendent Paul Nyathi who said he was not in the office yesterday.
Sources told The Standard that rattled by increasing protests, Mugabe has ordered his security ministers and security commanders not to allow any demonstration to take place in his absence amid growing suspicion that some of his top officials were supporting dissenting views.
They said before his departure for the United Nations General Assembly, Mugabe told his security ministers led by Home Affairs boss, Ignatius Chombo and senior service chiefs that he was fed up with images of violent protests being showed to the world from Zimbabwe.
“Mugabe initially supported a proposal that had been tabled by police and some ministers to crush protests using excessive force, but later changed his mind opting for a total ban on protests until the UN General Assembly is over,” said a senior Zanu PF official.
“The president is convinced that the current wave of protest are aimed at attracting international attention ahead of the UN summit. This is so because, from the intelligence reports, there are certain names that are featuring predominately in these demonstrations and it’s not by coincidence that they are all members of demonstrating institutions or parties.”
A senior government official said some names such as Pride Mukono, Denford Ngadziore, Tatenda Mombeyarara, Oliver Chikumba and Makomborero Haruzivishe were featuring in all the demonstrations taking place.
He said the government discovered that they had been meeting at a certain backyard house in Mufakose and Hatcliffe for strategic meetings plotting demonstrations.
“We know who is supplying them with white T-shirts inscribed “Mugabe must go” and we know who is funding these meeting. So the president said he would rather ban all demonstrations and police have been told not to approve any, especially in Harare,” the official said.
“We have our informers who have attended some of their backyard meetings in Hatcliffe disguised as a community feedback meeting for residents. They do slogans and discuss how to attack police officers during the demos as well as how to prevent suffocation when tear gas is thrown at them. We have videos and audios of them plotting on who should be at the fore-front and who should be sacrificed for arrest.”
Chombo said the so called ‘peaceful protests’ were not permissible claiming that from past experience, not even a demo led by church leaders could be described as peaceful.
“Most of these protests are violent and we are against that. Tell your people that we can’t have a country that permits violence by rogue elements to disturb our peace. No! No! That will not be allowed,” Chombo said last week.
But insiders said Mugabe feared a possible uprising by the people.