Zimbabwe reverting to repressive state: ZRP responsible for protest violence

Malvern Mkudu

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About 4000 MDC-T supporters march in Harare without police supervision

Zimbabwe Police have recently banned protests in Harare until the 16th of September. President Mugabe has also lashed out at the judiciary for giving judgements that allow protests. His statements appear to be aimed at intimidating the judiciary into giving favourable rulings to him regardless of whether the rulings violate the constitution or not.

For over a decade, the ruling ZANU PF made it difficult for rival parties to carry out any street protests against the government. The protests were always ruthlessly crushed by the partisan Zimbabwe Republic Police. Although the law required that political parties notify the police about an impending protests police always had a ready excuse to thwart the protests.

The year 2015 however started off differently with political parties and civic organisations carrying out protests in Harare. Most of the protest marches have only gone ahead after the intervention of the High Court. Some of the protests have ended with violence while others have proceeded peacefully at times without police supervision.

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Demonstration against bondnotes strated peacefully with no police supervision. Police attacked protesters as they delivered petition to parliament

There are other protests that have turned violent which we cannot apportion any fault to the police. The Beitbridge violence and the transport operators’ protests that turned violent in Epworth were not caused by police.

Many of the protests that ended violently were poorly attended. In the most recent protests police fired teargas at the open space near Rainbow Towers that has come to be known as the Freedom Square before protesters even gathered. Police have proved to be the catalyst of most of the violent clashes between them and protesters owing to their trigger happiness when it comes to firing tear gas.

Timeline for Protests

Date of protest Who organised meeting/protest Outcome
February War veterans meeting Violence
9 March Dzamara march organised by Dzamara family No violence
14 April MDC-T march against poverty(after High Court ruling) No violence
18 May Prayer Network of Zimbabwe against National Pledge No Violence
8 August MDC Masvingo rally No violence
8 August MDC  Gweru rally No violence
August 3 March against bond notes and against unemployment No violence but turned violent at the end. Police attacked protesters and journalists
July 15 Vendors protest Teargas fired after council called police
24 August MDC –T demonstration Teargas fired  leading to violence
26 August NERA electoral reforms demonstration Teargas fired leading to violence

Except for the vendors’ demonstration at Town House which had been not sanctioned, most of the violent clashes have occurred after police unreasonably deny opposition parties and civic groups their rights to assemble and protest. Police have dispatched teargas against protestors despite the existence of court orders allowing protesters to march.

Police have provoked protesters in most of the demonstrations that have turned violent. Protesters have demonstrated on several occasions that they are capable of peaceful protest with limited or without police escort and supervision.

The burning of cars in the CBD and the looting of some shops has been used as justification by government to clamp down on protesters. State media has attacked the judiciary for granting orders to authorise protests. Even President Mugabe has waded into the matter calling the judiciary irresponsible for allowing these protests to go ahead.

Mugabe’s government has also used violence against unarmed war veterans who were demanding audience with the President. Police used teargas to disperse the once fearsome supporters of President Mugabe after they showed any signs of dissent. They had not destroyed any property or posed a threat to the flow of business in the CBD. Mugabe has demonstrated that he will crush any form of dissent whether there is a threat of violence or not.

Although the government has condemned the protests, it has been silent about ZANU PF’s own marches that have been carried out in the city of Harare. The ruling ZANU PF has never had to go to court after police frustrated their plans for marches. The party recently held a one million man march in honour of President Mugabe and also held another march to thank President Mugabe for giving them farms for residential stands.

The country has been sliding back into the repression of the last 15 years ago when Mugabe facing his fiercest opposition from the labour backed MDC resorted to abductions, tortures and beatings of opponents. The police applied the law selectively allowing Mugabe’s supporters to perpetrate atrocities with impunity. Police turned a blinnd eye to the excesses of Mugabe’s supporters.

Now cornered from both internal and external dissent, Mugabe is resorting to his old ways. Government recently announced its decision to ban all protests within Harare until 16 September. This is in violation of the constitution and the public attack on the judiciary is an attempt by the powerful leader to influence future judgements.  Mugabe also seemed to tactfully encourage his party’s youths to deal violently with protesters.

Mugabe is likely to escalate his clampdown on dissenting voices as calls for him to step down grow due to the economic meltdown in the country.

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