HARARE – With both opposition leaders and ordinary Zimbabweans vowing yesterday that they would continue to agitate for change, after President Robert Mugabe’s panicking government defied a court order and ruthlessly crushed a planned mega demonstration in Harare, there are growing fears that the country has now reached a point of no return.
The protest march, which the opposition wanted to use to press for much-needed electoral reforms ahead of Zimbabwe’s eagerly-anticipated 2018 national elections, prompted nervous authorities to place the entire capital city under a virtual lock-down.
Even after the High Court had ruled mid-morning that the protest march could go ahead, the Daily News witnessed riot police — backed by armoured trucks and water cannons — indiscriminately firing volleys of teargas at all and sundry, battering and chasing groups of determined opposition supporters around “Freedom Square” and in downtown Harare.
Many people going about their daily chores, including journalists covering the chaos and children who were going to the nearby Harare Agricultural Show, were caught up in the resultant mayhem, as the mad-as-hell riot police pursued and savaged anything and everything on two legs.
As a consequence, the capital city’s usually bustling central business district was quiet and clear of the hordes of street vendors who usually litter the pavements, while many shops opted to close their doors in fear of riots.
Defiant opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Zimbabwe People First interim president Joice Mujuru told journalists later that the State’s violent reaction to their demo would not deter them from staging another massive protest in Harare next week, as they exert more pressure on the government to institute needed electoral reforms.
The two leaders, who have coalesced under the banner of the National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera), also blamed the police for the violent scenes that have been witnessed around the country over the past few months.
Describing yesterday as “the worst day in my life”, Nera convener Didymus Mutasa also said he was “shocked to see the State breaking its own laws and starting violence”.
“If that was intended to cow us from demonstrating, then the opposite has been the case. Next Friday, we will do exactly what we have done today and if that is going to be thwarted, then our capacity to demonstrate will also be tested,” Mutasa vowed, adding that Zimbabweans “are going to continue demonstrating until we vote Mugabe out of power”.
“We hope there will be an election sooner than 2018 so we can sort out this mess. We also appeal to Sadc to take the issue of Zimbabwe to their next summit in Swaziland and we are not going to stop there as we will also approach the African Union and the United Nations,” he said further.
Tsvangirai said the High Court had specifically ordered Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo and the police, “not to interfere, obstruct, or stop the march, but to facilitate the applicants’ constitutional right to a peaceful march”.
He also vowed that the government’s brutal suppression of the people would not stop Zimbabweans from exercising their rights as guaranteed by the country’s Constitution, adding that they were not going to approach the courts again to seek an order to protest.
“We will simply notify the police next time and make reference to the order we were granted today. We are not accountable for the actions of people that happened outside the route that we had been cleared for, especially when it is the police that started it.
“Violence begets violence and the police should stand warned not to continue to provoke the peace-loving and innocent people of Zimbabwe whose only crime today was to attempt to exercise their rights.
“This regime that is now in its sunset hour should stand warned that citizens are like a spring. The more they are suppressed, the greater the rebound. People’s anger and desperation are real … I am glad that Zimbabweans now refuse to be cowed,” Tsvangirai said.
The former prime minister in the government of national unity also defended the Nera leadership saying they had done their best to comply with the law in organising yesterday’s demonstration which he said had seen some participants being “kidnapped and detained” at the Zanu PF headquarters.
“We are in a season when you don’t know what will happen next and what will not happen. Notwithstanding this clear and unambiguous order, the police indiscriminately and brutally dispersed the crowd that wanted to march in compliance with a court order.
“They assaulted and rained teargas in the city centre and at the Freedom Square near the Harare Magistrates’ Courts,” he added, saying the police’s brutality exposed Chombo who had said the previous day that police would quash the demonstration.
“They actually meant to say they would quash any legal gathering as they have done today by suppressing a sanctioned march.
“Now that it is the government and the police who have obstructed a sanctioned march in violation of a court order, it stands to reason that this government is working very hard to provoke the law-abiding citizens of this country,” he said.
Tsvangirai said this in the light of police flatly refusing to recognise the High Court’s order that sanctioned the march to press the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) to effect electoral reforms ahead of the 2018 elections.
On her part, Mujuru said she had received reports that more than 50 people had been injured during the attacks on the populace by the police.
“It (police brutality) has been like this for a long time and people have been whispering their anger all along and if we are not going to get a response then it will continue like this,” Mujuru said.
Earlier in the day, the image of the road sign for Robert Mugabe Road which was pictured vandalised and lying on the tarmac next to the body of a dog was the subject of frenzied social media chatter, with many Zimbabweans suggesting this was highly-symbolic in terms of Mugabe’s administration.-Dailynews