Zimbabwe police clashed with MDC-T youths yesterday in Harare following protest marches organised by the opposition party. Police prevented the protesters from handing over a petition to parliament triggering unnecessary commotion.
Initially the demonstration had attracted very small crowds but police panicked and unnecessarily provoked protesters leading into violent clashes. Shops were closed down especially along First Street. Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko’s Choppies retail shop was also targeted for looting.
Some private cars were stoned and images of burning cars were captured. The cars that were targeted for burning belong to the national broadcaster Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP). In response police deployed heavy antiriot equipment often seen in the Gaza strip and teargassed civilians in an arbitrary manner. They sprayed water on ordinary citizens.
There was heavy police presence on the streets of Harare and even the army was roped in as a few military police officers could be seen patrolling some streets. By end of day Nelson Mandela Avenue which houses the offices of the main opposition MDC-T had been cordoned off and vendors who sell wares in that road were being rounded up by police.
The skirmishes resulted in some winners and some losers. Some people lost property while others were injured. Politically some parties lost out while others milked the situation. Inside the ruling party these developments were bad news for President Mugabe although some sections of the ruling party would have welcomed the developments.
Vendors and street dealers who often trade by day in the central business district were forced to pack their wares and watch helplessly as police took over the streets. Teargas was being fire indiscriminately making it difficult to carry out any business on the streets.
The opposition could not believe their luck as a failed demonstration suddenly received a lifeline. Images of anti-riot vehicles and teargas have only buttressed the narrative that Zimbabwe police violate human rights. It was a blunder of epic proportions by police.
This could come back to haunt the greater civil society and political citizens though as some sections in the ruling party will use it as an opportunity to justify a clampdown on all forms of dissent. Future political participation and activities could be hampered as government claims it is trying to protect property and human life.
A faction within ZANU PF that comprises mainly of ‘securocrats’ is secretly wishing for the protests to escalate. It is clear that protests have the desired effect of scaring Mugabe into submission. They will be telling him every day that the country is becoming ungovernable and if the trend continues there is a big chance of him being toppled and exiting the stage in disgrace. If he saw yesterday’s images of burning cars he will be quaking in his boots especially with memories of what happened to his friend Muarmar Gaddafi still fresh in his memory. Protests have also seen long time dictator Blaise Compaore being toppled in Burkina Faso.
Some high placed sources in the security say police provocation was a deliberate act of provocation to escalate the situation. Most people in the establishment are tired of Mugabe and want him gone. This is probably his own individual opinion but the heavy handedness by police towards a handful of protesters has left many people wondering.
Mugabe, his wife and a handful of hangers on will not have received this well. We have already seen Professor Jonathan Moyo going into a frenzy condemning the violence. It has been the same with beneficiaries of rot such as Psychology Maziwisa who have weighed in. This is in contrast with war veterans have not condemned the protests. MP Justice Wadyajena who has openly thrown his weight behind Vice President Mnangagwa has condemned police for beating up protesters.
These pro-Mugabe people are hoping to use the party’s political process to take over. They have been reconstituting the party and expelling anyone they perceive as a threat to their power ambitions. However they face a hurdle as they are opposed by the military establishment and they are also seen by the generality of the masses as being an impediment to a better Zimbabwe by protecting Mugabe.
It is clear that most Zimbabweans now see Mugabe as an impediment to progress. Even those that were benefiting via his patronage system are no longer comfortable as government is either failing to pay for tenders or implementing policies such as the introduction of bond notes and statutory instrument 64 which can potentially undermine their economic interests.
Mugabe now faces the dilemma that he is not wanted by many people in and outside the ruling party. The ‘securocrats’ who feel it is their time to govern are not impressed by his refusal or reluctance to pass on the baton stick. Business is depressed with the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange trading only $155 a few weeks ago. Most of them depend on imports to operate their businesses and Mugabe’s polices are a threat to this. Although some of them were hurt by destruction of property and loss of business yesterday, a good number of them crave for change.
As long as the economy nosedives, opposition against Mugabe’s continued stay in office will continue to swell. Mugabe’s choices now are to stretch his luck and fight off the protesters who are getting more determined by the day. The second option which is more likely to safeguard Mugabe’s legacy is to cut a deal with his enforcers, the military and allow them to take over through their preferred candidate Emmerson Mnangagwa. Lastly he can call for an early congress and allow the party to democratically elect a new leader.