A titanic clash is looming between increasingly twitchy authorities and the MDC, over the main opposition’s plans to mount a massive demonstration to protest the country’s falling standards of living which it blames on President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his government.
This comes as the commission of inquiry that was appointed by Mnangagwa to probe the deadly August 1 shootings has inflamed political tensions in the country after it subpoenaed opposition leader Nelson Chamisa to appear before it, regarding the violence which led to the deaths of at least six people.
The commission’s decision to subpoena Chamisa followed last week’s testimonies by security chiefs, who absolved the military of the killings which sullied the July 30 elections which had, until the killings, been widely hailed as the most peaceful in the history of post-independent Zimbabwe.
MDC secretary-general, Douglas Mwonzora, told the Daily News on Sunday yesterday that the party’s planned “mother of all demonstrations” would go ahead despite the government’s fears.
This comes after Home Affairs minister Cain Mathema recently warned that authorities would crush the planned demonstration — despite the Constitutional Court’s recent outlawing of bans on protests.
“We are not going to demonstrate out of the benevolence of Zanu PF. Zimbabweans have a reason to demonstrate … the rights to demonstrate are enshrined in the Constitution and … Mathema should put that in his head.
“It must not be forgotten that the people of Zimbabwe have rights enshrined under the Constitution. Section 59 of the Constitution clearly states that every person has the right to demonstrate and to present petitions.
“The MDC is committed to holding authorities accountable to the dictates of our Constitution and the law. In view of this, we are committed to exercising our democratic right to demonstrate in a peaceful manner as required by the Constitution,” Mwonzora said.
“We are the agents of peace, as we have always shown. We will continue to pursue peaceful and democratic means to end the oppression and suffering of our people, regardless of the lies and mechanisations of the commission of inquiry,” he added.
The MDC has been angered by the decision of the inquiry to summon Chamisa this Wednesday, to testify on the events which ended with the deadly clashes between protesters and security forces.
The seven-member commission is led by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe.
The other members of the team are academics Lovemore Madhuku and Charity Manyeruke, Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) ex-president Vimbai Nyemba, Rodney Dixon of the United Kingdom, former Tanzanian chief of the defence forces General Davis Mwamunyange and ex-Commonwealth secretary-general Chief Emeka Anyaoku of Nigeria.
Chamisa even suggested last Thursday that he would not appear before the inquiry — unless both Mnangagwa and his deputy, Constantino Chiwenga, were also compelled to testify before it on the killings.
However, Mnangagwa’s spokesperson, George Charamba, has warned that Chamisa risks suffering serious consequences if he does not appear before the commission, as it has powers similar to those of the country’s courts.
The youthful opposition leader was asked to appear before the commission following the testimonies of army and police chiefs who suggested last Monday that a militant wing in the MDC — the Vanguard — was responsible for the August 1 shootings.
The planned MDC demonstration is seen as one of the biggest tests to the new government’s commitment to the rule of law and its respect for all freedoms that are guaranteed in the Constitution.
This is especially so after the Constitutional Court last month delivered a landmark ruling which said the draconian Public Order and Security Act (Posa) — which was a favourite weapon of ousted former leader Robert Mugabe whenever he needed to crush the opposition — was unconstitutional.
Crucially, the apex court also said peaceful demonstrations were a guaranteed right.
Posa was enacted in 2002, replacing the equally detested Law and Order Maintenance Act (Loma), which was enacted by the Rhodesians before the country’s independence in 1980, to suppress political activism by blacks during the bitter years of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle.
Under Posa, police enjoyed wide and discretional powers — such as sanctioning or banning public gatherings and peaceful demonstrations — with some rogue officers often using excessive force to deal with peaceful protesters.
Officiating at a police graduation ceremony last Thursday, Mnangagwa appeared to have the planned MDC demonstration in mind when he warned that people must not abuse their freedoms.
“The advent of the new dispensation and the Second Republic saw the expansion of democratic space in our country, as enshrined in our Constitution. This culminated in the holding of peaceful, free, fair and credible harmonised general elections.
“However, it is regrettable that some retrogressive, unpatriotic and selfish individuals are bent on abusing the democracy we now enjoy,” he warned.
Mathema had earlier warned that the government would not tolerate the planned MDC demonstration.
“Government has put the necessary security measures in place to ensure that law and order is maintained and anyone who is found inciting violence, intimidating people going about their business, advocating for illegal gatherings and influencing civil servants to go on strike will certainly face the full wrath of the law.
“Law enforcement agencies will not hesitate to hold convenors of illegal gatherings or demonstrations responsible for any ensuing disturbances which include violence and destruction of property in the country, particularly in the central business district (of Harare),” Mathema said in apparent reference to the looming MDC protests.
Mnangagwa has recently come under growing pressure from disillusioned citizens over the poor state of the local economy — after having been feted in his early days in office for superintending over arguably the most peaceful elections since Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain in 1980.
Zimbabwe remains in the grip of a huge economic crisis which has seen the country slipping back to frightening levels similar to the disastrous 2008 hyper-inflationary era.
The country has been experiencing acute shortages of foreign currency, which in recent weeks have triggered shocking price hikes, shortages of essential medical drugs and basic consumer goods.
At the same time, the government’s recent austerity measures, which are seen as the first steps towards reviving the country’s economy, did not find resonance with the majority of hurting Zimbabweans.