THE opposition MDC yesterday claimed its leader Nelson Chamisa escaped death by a whisker after police in Marondera fired “live and rubber bullets” at him, forcing him to scurry for cover and abandon a tree-planting programme earmarked for Dombotombo Clinic in the farming town, 72km east of Harare.
Although police insisted that they only used tear smoke to disperse the crowd, top MDC officials said live ammunition had been fired into the crowd.
“Live shots fired at president Chamisa, I was beside him. We were missed by a whisker. We were only planting trees for National Tree Planting Day in Marondera today,” Marondera Central MP Caston Matewu tweeted.
Chamisa’s spokesperson Nkululeko Sibanda also claimed police had fired live ammunition in their direction, describing the incident as an attempt on the opposition leader’s life.
“Police were firing live ammunition in the direction of president Nelson Chamisa. This is unacceptable and the president remains resolute and fired up,” Sibanda said.
“The police attempted to shoot president Chamisa and we are now regrouping to try and assess the level of damage and the number of people injured in the process. I have seen four people at the moment.
“There are people hit by rubber bullets, (but) they targeted live ammunition at the president.”
“It is uncalled for. It’s irresponsible and damages our country. It is sabotage on the economy and is the real sanctions against the people of Zimbabwe,” Sibanda said.
But police denied reports that they used live ammunition, saying they only used tear smoke after Chamisa and his supporters had refused to disperse.
As early as 6am, armed police had mounted roadblocks and barricaded Cherutombo Primary School, the initial venue for the tree planting programme, arguing that the event was not sanctioned by the law enforcement agents.
Chamisa’s security team then shifted the venue to Dombotombo Clinic, where they were again followed by armed State security agents, resulting in a fierce stand-off.
Chamisa insisted on going ahead with his programme, before police violently dispersed them with tear gas.
Chamisa told NewsDay yesterday that the incident confirmed that police were on working on orders to crush his party’s events and close the country’s democratic space.
The latest incident comes as the MDC claims it has been unofficially banned by the Zanu PF government from participating in national politics after several of its functions have been blocked in the past.
Chamisa later conducted his tree-planting programme at the party’s Marondera provincial headquarters in Morningside.
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said security agencies only used tear smoke to disperse the crowd.
“Facts on the ground indicate that there was a gathering which had no prior notification to the police. The conveners were advised to follow laid-down procedures and also what they were doing was not legally binding. So what the officers on the ground did was to advise the gathering not to do things that will make them clash with the authorities,” Nyathi
“There were some people who came in kombis and chanting slogans and shouting and, in the process, not complying with police orders. So (the) police had to use tear smoke to disperse them.
“No live rounds were fired, no rubber bullets were used. Our officers were not armed with firearms as anyone would want to allege. No weapons were fired at anyone directly.”
In a statement last night, the Information ministry said: “Police in Marondera had to deploy tear smoke to disperse an aggressive crowd that was closing in on them. This was after leadership of a political party tried to hold a rally at Dombotombo Clinic without notifying police. For the avoidance of doubt, no firearm was discharged.”
A few weeks ago, Chamisa watched haplessly as police violently dispersed party supporters and attacked ordinary citizens gathered for his Hope of the Nation Address in Harare.
Several people were injured while others were arrested after the crackdown, which also saw a 10-month-old baby being detained together with its mother.
The MDC has, of late, seen its programmes being blocked, with heavy police presence seen also in most parts of the country, particularly in the capital, Harare.
Until late yesterday, police maintained a heavy presence in Marondera and along the Harare-Mutare Highway.