POLICE yesterday shut down the MDC headquarters in Harare following the alleged discovery of 210 riot police and 41 municipal police helmets in a basement of a nearby building, but the opposition party accused the police of deliberately planting the anti-riot gear to justify a crackdown on government critics.
As early as 7am, armed police had cordoned off the Morgan Richard Tsvangirai House, the opposition headquarters and Robinson House where the helmets were allegedly recovered on Saturday afternoon, forcing MDC workers to abandon their offices.
Police also intensified patrols in and around Harare and other cities while keeping a heavy presence at all intersections in the central business district. They also mounted roadblocks and conducted random body searches on commuters on all major roads leading into the city, possibly in anticipation of riots.
The MDC yesterday accused the police of manufacturing the “discovery of helmets” as a pretext to clamp down on the opposition, and alleged that it had evidence that the “recovered” helmets at the basement of Robinson House had been sent for a public auction by the police themselves and sold to a private individual.
“It turns out that the helmets were sent there by the police through ABC Auctions, only to raid them and claim it was someone’s. Zanu PF is funny,” MDC leader Nelson Chamisa’s spokesperson Nkululeko Sibanda said.
Police could neither confirm nor deny counter claims by the MDC, saying investigations were still underway.
“We are investigating, investigations are under way right now,” police national spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said.
On heavy police presence around Morgan Tsvangirai House, Nyathi said: “It was not a heavy presence of police at the MDC headquarters, but members of the public have expressed concern over attacks that took place in that area by youths who control parking. In keeping with their constitutional mandate to protect members of the public, we deployed police to that problem area.”
In the morning, MDC secretary-general Chalton Hwende described the heavy police deployment as a cowardly act by a desperate regime failing to deal with pressing problems faced by the citizens.
“It is a cowardly act which won’t move us, our workers were scared out of the office and the area sealed off. How does trying to threaten a legitimate party solve the socio-economic problems that are rocking the country?” he said.
In a statement, party deputy spokesperson Luke Tamborinyoka condemned the actions by the police.
“Armed police have laid siege at the MDC headquarters starting early this morning in what is clearly a choreographed attempt to clamp down on the peaceful people’s movement. First was a story in the Zanu PF-controlled media in which the police said they had discovered riot and municipal helmets at Robinson House in Harare which they are surprisingly trying to link to the party headquarters,” Tamborinyoka said.
The MDC said the actions by the police reflect panic as there was a ground swell of unhappiness over the collapsing social fabric finding expression in demonstrations.
“The illegitimate regime is getting desperate and all these are frantic attempts to ban and proscribe legitimate political activity; just as they have done with peaceful demonstrations,” the MDC said.
“For the record, we are a peaceful, law-abiding political party that poses no danger to human life. Available evidence points to the fact that in the past 12 months, it is the (President Emmerson) Mnangagwa regime that has killed people, both in August 2018 and in January 2019 and the perpetrators have not been brought to book,” the MDC said.
Before banning protests by the MDC in August, police claimed it had discovered catapults and stones that the opposition intended to use for criminal activities during the protests.
The MDC and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions have been mulling protests over the escalating prices of goods and services at a time doctors are still on strike, a move that has the potential of crippling the country.