There was anxiety in Harare’s high-density suburbs over the weekend and Monday following the sighting of armed soldiers driving around the townships in gun-mounted armoured vehicles ahead of planned protests by civic society groups today (Tuesday).
But Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa said he was unaware soldiers were patrolling the streets of Harare’s high-density suburbs or anywhere else in the country. “I’m not aware of that,” he said last night.
Zimbabwe Defence Forces spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Overson Mugwisi also professed ignorance of such a development.
He promised to check with the relevant authorities, but by the time of going to print last night, he said he had heard of no such thing.
Contrary to their denials, NewsDay witnessed soldiers driving through several high-density suburbs in Harare on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
NewsDay also received calls from anxious residents talking about the presence of armed soldiers in Kambuzuma, Glen View, Glen Norah, Budiriro and Chitungwiza.
Civil society organisations are organising protests against the inclusive government.
The government seems to be taking seriously threats by the civic groups to protest against the resurgence of politically-motivated violence and the failure by the police to stem the disturbances.
The groups are also against the holding of elections this year, saying the environment was not yet conducive.
Zimbabweans worldwide watched closely in recent weeks as powerful figures fell in Tunisia and Egypt.
Mass protests saw long-time rulers in Egypt and Tunisia being forced out of office.
Such protests are also threatening Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
International Socialist Organisation local co-ordinator Munyaradzi Gwisai and 45 activists were last week arrested and charged with treason for allegedly conspiring to incite Egyptian-style mass protests.
If convicted they face the death penalty.
The civic groups said the protests were aimed at denouncing alleged human rights violations and the resurgence of political violence.
The civic groups, led by the umbrella body, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, said they were against the holding of elections this year because the country was not yet ready to go for polls.
Coalition spokesperson Philip Pasirayi said the protests were being organised by pro-democracy movements.
“It’s a coming together of pro-democracy movements to register our discontent. We are in consultations with churches, students and the youth. No specific dates have been set,” Pasirayi said last night.
“The protests are to register our disappointment with the inclusive government’s failure to stem political violence and police inaction.”
Pasirayi said there were continued human rights violations in Zimbabwe.
“What we have realised is that instead of arresting the perpetrators of political violence, police are arresting victims of political violence,” he said.
“The message we also want to deliver to the inclusive government, through the protests, is that Zimbabwe is not ready for elections. We want security sector reforms.
“We are calling for the disbanding of structures of violence before elections are held. The violence is systematic. It is organised.”
The government has responded to the threats by pouring armed soldiers onto the streets in most high-density suburbs in Harare.
Residents in the capital’s high-density areas and Chitungwiza said they were surprised to see army trucks with armed soldiers on the streets. The vehicles included anti-riot water cannons.
“Soldiers in a convoy of up to 10 vehicles and with water cannon passed through Makoni shopping centre (Chitungwiza) telling people not to participate in any form of protest marches like what happened in Egypt,” a resident from Chitungwiza said.
Efforts to get hold of co-Home Affairs ministers Kembo Mohadi and Theresa Makone proved fruitless while similar strenous efforts to get a comment from Chief Police Spokesperson Senior Assistant Wayne Bvudzijena were in vain.