The violent crackdown by the police on opposition activists that gathered in Harare on Friday awaiting a court judgement on a planned demonstration once again put President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s commitment to reform into doubt.
Police had used flimsy grounds to ban the protests organised by the MDC a few hours before they were scheduled to take place and it is possible that the message did not reach some people.
A large but peaceful crowd took positions at the Africa Unity Square before the riot police descended on them like a tonne of bricks.
A woman was seriously injured after she was allegedly hit on the head by the marauding police officers. Several other people were reportedly injured in the
Disturbing images of police officers pouncing on fleeing opposition supporters circulated widely.
Some citizens who were going about their business in the central business district (CBD) were also not spared.
Ahead of the protests, police had desperately tried to build a narrative that the protests would turn violent.
On the eve of the demonstrations, the police came up with a fanciful tale of how some unmarked vehicles delivered “granite stones” to street kids in the CBD.
The stones were purportedly meant to be used as weapons to attack people during the protests. Only the most gullible must have fallen for that propaganda.
However, what was more disturbing was the wave of abductions and torture of civil society and opposition activists that the government blamed on alleged
loyalists of former president Robert Mugabe.
The police have not accounted for anyone behind the abductions.
In fact, the law enforcement agents have not solved similar criminal activities that happened as far as August last year after opposition and civil society
activists were brutalised by members of the security forces.
The claims that a “third force” is behind the human rights violations will not find any takers.
Statements by the United Nations, European Union, United States and Britain showed clearly that the world is not buying the government’s excuses.
The international community is running out of patience with Mnangagwa’s government and the reaction to the protests only served to confirm fears that the
government’s commitment to democracy is questionable.
Zimbabwe’s constitution gives citizens the right to hold peaceful protests and a democratic government will respect such fundamental rights.
What happened on Friday is not different from the excesses of August 1, 2018 and January this year where soldiers were unleashed on unarmed civilians,
resulting in several deaths.
The actions by the security forces so far proved that Mnangagwa’s claims that he is different from Mugabe, who had a reputation of being a brutal dictator, are