GOVERNMENT will today deploy security forces to quell mass demonstrations organised by a coalition of opposition parties joining forces to push for electoral reforms and change — should the protest turn violent — as pressure mounts on President Robert Mugabe to reform or quit, it has been established.
The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) yesterday refused to grant permission to the 18 political parties under the auspices of the National Election Reform Agenda and the Coalition of Democrats to march in the streets of Harare, prompting the parties to approach the High Court.
Justice Hlekani Mwayera, who heard the urgent matter, is expected to make a ruling at 8am today, but protest organisers insist the demonstration will forge ahead, setting the stage for violent confrontation like what happened on Wednesday in Harare.
Meanwhile, Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo said state security forces would not hesitate to descend heavily on protestors.
“We will not tolerate any illegal demonstration. If they elect to march unlawfully, the police are there to protect citizens from lawbreakers,” Chombo said yesterday at a press briefing in Harare attended by Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi and State Security minister Kembo Mohadi.
“We have a moral duty to protect citizens of this country and people that do business so that they are not disrupted by malcontents. There is no ‘peaceful demonstration’ that has been held so far, all violent.”
Military sources told the Zimbabwe Independent yesterday that the army will be on high alert and could patrol the streets today following Wednesday’s riots which resulted in a police car and a Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation truck being set ablaze.
Some shops, including Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko’s Choppies Supermarket along Nelson Mandela Avenue in Harare, were also looted.
Security sources said soldiers would be deployed in the streets at the slightest hint of trouble as the under pressure and insecure government moves to contain the rising social discontent and unrests manifested through riots.
The security reinforcements, sources said, were also made to ensure that there is structure-induced stability and false tranquillity as visiting Sierra Leone Vice-President Victor Bockarie, who opened the Harare Agricultural Show, leaves the country today.
Army public relations director Lieutenant-Colonel Alphios Makotore said questions relating to the proposed demonstrations should be referred to the ZRP.
“I do not comment on issues to do with demonstrations,” Makotore said adding, “such questions should be directed to the police.”
The 18 opposition political parties, which include former vice-president Joice Mujuru’s Zimbabwe People First, Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T, Welshman Ncube’s MDC, Simba Makoni’s Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn, Tendai Biti’s People’s Democratic Party and Elton Mangoma’s Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe, among others, informed the police of the intended demonstration on August 12.
The police, however, yesterday told the organisers they did not have capacity to handle the protest march in a letter dated August 15, but stamped August 25.
“The above subject matter is pertinent. We acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 12th of August 2016. The office is discouraging the issue of marching in the central business district considering the number of participants, that is 150 000 to be involved in your street demonstration,” wrote the officer commanding Harare Central District, chief superintendent Newbert Saunyama.
“The crowd cannot be accommodated in the CBD as it interrupts the smooth flow of both human and vehicular traffic. We, however, encourage you to send representatives to submit your petition to Zec (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) headquarters rather than engaging in street demonstration.
“Any inconveniences caused are greatly regretted. Thank you in advance for your co-operation.”
The political parties, however, vowed to press ahead with their demonstration.
The organisation’s chairperson Didymus Mutasa, a founder member of Zimbabwe People First party, said the demonstration would forge ahead despite skirmishes between protestors and police on Wednesday, and police resistance.
“We have called this press conference to announce that tomorrow’s march to press for comprehensive electoral reforms is going ahead as planned. As political parties, we call upon the people of Zimbabwe to come out in their numbers so that we make a loud national expression to demand comprehensive electoral reforms that will ensure that we move away from the culture of contested electoral outcomes,” said Mutasa. “During our march tomorrow, we will hand over a petition to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and the procession will culminate in an address to the people by the leaders of the political parties.”
Mutasa said the opposition were demanding the implementation of electoral reforms, and the announcement of a clear road-map — complete with processes and time-frames — to the next election by Zec.
“We are calling on Zimbabweans to come out in their numbers tomorrow in support of this legitimate cause of demanding a truly free and fair election. We are also calling on Sadc, specifically the current chair of Sadc, to remain seized with the issue of Zimbabwe and to ensure that the electoral field in this country is levelled ahead of the next election,” Mutasa said.
“Sadc must remain seized with the issue of Zimbabwe where the current unravelling economic crisis is just but a mirror of the underlying political crisis of legitimacy. As political parties, we have complied with the law in that we have notified the police of our peaceful march tomorrow.”
MDC-T vice-chairperson Morgen Komichi, who is directing Nera operations, said people will gather at the open space opposite Rainbow Towers Hotel and Harare showgrounds.
“We will march along Robert Mugabe Road via 4th (Simon Muzenda) then turn at Jason Moyo Street headed for Zec offices where we will hand over our petition and return back to Freedom Square,” said Komichi.
“Nera has followed the law in notifying of our demonstration which will be peaceful. We urge people to be patient as we wait for judgment. Even if the judgment comes out at eight or 10 in the morning or at two in the afternoon, the demonstration will take place.”
Today’s demonstration comes at a time the Mugabe regime has been under pressure from demonstrators who are demanding that he steps down amid a worsening political and economic crisis.
The country has witnessed an increased number of protests since the July 1 riots in Beitbridge following the imports ban.