TENSION and fear gripped Harare and other parts of the country yesterday amid a huge deployment of heavily armed soldiers and police ahead of a planned demonstration today by the opposition MDC to protest the deteriorating economic situation in the country.
NewsDay observed trucks with soldiers in the central business district (CBD) and other parts of Harare, where they have stepped up patrols and roadblocks all over the capital, raising fears of the deadly clashes of the past.
The MDC says the poor handling of the economy by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has impoverished the majority of people in the southern African country, with savings and pensions being lost to high inflation, which hit 175% in June before government suspended releasing data.
Zanu PF leaders were also allegedly threatening people not to participate in the protest, while in Mutare, the notorious national youth service graduates threatened to use machetes against opposition supporters.
army truck is in the grip of its worst economic crisis in a decade, with shortages of fuel, bread, medicines, cash and rolling power cuts that have decimated industry and mines, while households are going for up to 20 hours without electricity.
The crisis has snuffed out any hope that the economy would quickly recover after former President Robert Mugabe was removed in a coup in November 2017, and has fueled public anger against Mnangagwa’s government.
Yesterday, several people were making efforts to leave town early, while others were making frantic efforts to buy basic goods, should shops close during the protests.
Police have said they believe the protests will turn violent, but the opposition party has insisted the demonstrations will be peaceful. MDC youth leader Obey Sithole said it was game on.
“I have noted that some overzealous youth from Zanu PF are moving around Harare, intimidating citizens ahead of the national demonstration,” Sithole said.
“These tactics are the same old tactics employed by dictators. This confirms what we have always said; that Zanu PF harvests on fear as a way to lubricate their illegitimate stay in power.
“This, however, will not deter us from pursuing our democratic and constitutional cause. Demonstrating is a right as enshrined under section 59 of the Constitution. No amount of intimidation will stop an idea whose time has come.
“The idea of a new and free Zimbabwe can never be stopped by a few selfish individuals. This is an idea bigger than individuals and we will not bow down to such desperate acts of intimidation.”
Sithole said they wanted a people’s government in which people’s rights were respected.
Other MDC officials based in the diaspora chipped in, rallying their fellow countrymen to triumph over fear. They also said they were ready to report any human rights abuses to the international community.
“The North America province of the MDC stands in solidarity with the masses during the planned demonstration,” the party’s United States chairman Tawanda Dzvokora said.
“The province takes exceptions to utterances by Zanu PF officials, who are giving out threats of violence and bloodshed unto those who will take part. We instead urge the public, our supporters and sympathisers to refrain from violent behaviour and to restrain themselves from retaliation even under provocation.”
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) implored the demonstrators to maintain peace and shun violence. ZHRC also called upon the police to be impartial and investigate cases of abductions of opposition members in the build-up to the demonstrations.
“To this end, the commission calls upon the Zimbabwe Police Service to investigate allegations of the abductions and assault of human rights defenders and opposition political leaders that seem to be linked to the planned demonstrations,” the ZHRC said in a statement.
“Any cases of enforced disappearances and lawlessness should be condemned in the strongest of terms and the perpetrators should be made accountable through prosecution.”
The MDC claimed a number of their members, especially from the youth assembly, were being summoned to the Harare Central Police Station, Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi confirmed they were on high alert and alleged that they had recovered a substantial quantity of granite stones and catapults stashed in sacks in the CBD.
“Police reiterates that security services will not fold hands and allow violence, destruction of property, intimidation, threats and clandestine night acts of violence to take centre stage,” he said.
In Mutare, members of the National Youth Service (NYS), popularly known as the Green Bombers, warned that they would attack demonstrators with machetes and knobkerries after the MDC said it would march in the city on Thursday next week.
Commander of the NYS in Manicaland, Terrance Mukodza, urged the MDC to come armed for ‘war’.
“We are here to say that we are waiting for the MDC party. We have prepared machetes this time. Last time, we left them doing what they did. We have sharpened our knobkerries and machetes; we are not going to let them destroy a building that was built in 1952,” he said.
The Zanu PF Manicaland provincial youth executive yesterday held an emergency meeting to strategise on how to stop the series of demonstrations against Mnangagwa’s government.
The party’s provincial deputy youth secretary, Kudzanai Mariga, said the ruling party firmly supported Mnangagwa.
“Manicaland is strongly behind President Emmerson Mnangagwa. The province will not allow violence in its districts. The youth league will not fold hands as the MDC unleashes violence,” he said.