SEVERAL people were injured, while three were arrested in Harare yesterday, as riot police crushed a protest march organised by the Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (RTUZ) to press the government to urgently release civil servants’ December salaries.
BY MOSES MATENGA
Police blocked the placard-waving demonstrators along Nelson Mandela Avenue close to Parliament Building and randomly beat them with truncheons and later arrested RTUZ president, Obert Masaraure, secretary-general Robson Chere and programmes officer, Pride Mkono.
Zimbabwe Activists Alliance (ZAA) national co-ordinator, Lynette Mudehwe was also assaulted in the melee, together with an unidentified woman.
The estimated 30 demonstrators comprised of RTUZ members, ZAA, vendors’ associations and students’ unions.
The demonstrators, who held placards denouncing the Zanu PF government for misgovernance, said they wanted to petition Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa to speed up the payment of civil servants’ salaries and bonuses for 2015.
Passersby were also not spared the police wrath, as they were beaten up while shops close by were temporarily closed, as the police got busy, beating up almost everyone on sight.
Shortly before the march, Masaraure had addressed the group, calling on President Robert Mugabe to cut short his annual holiday in the Far East to return home and address pressing domestic issues.
“President Mugabe is flying in and out of the country while civil servants are suffering. (Vice-President Phelekezela) Mphoko is staying in a hotel at the civil servants’ expense. We are here in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the army, police and civil servants who cannot stand for themselves,” he said.
After his address, the protesters started marching and sang songs demanding Chinamasa, Mphoko and Mugabe immediately provide funds for civil servants’ salaries.
Mkono also addressed the activists saying: “They (government ministers) drive around in cars that breathe as if they are human beings.”
Mkono continued his address even in the presence of police officers, prompting the law enforcement agents to spring into action.
“Rovai vanhu ka vakomana (Beat them up guys),” a police officer, who appeared to be the commander of the troop, was heard shouting.
Moments later, truckloads of armed officers arrived on the scene.
The activists’ lawyer Gift Mtisi said his clients were severely assaulted and he was, by late yesterday, still trying to negotiate that they be taken to hospital for treatment.
“They are being charged with participation in an illegal demonstration. I am not sure whether they will be detained or not, but I am still trying to have them released so that they get medical attention,” he said.
Meanwhile, Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe chief executive, Emmanuel Nyawo described the RTUZ demonstration as ill-timed and meant to gain political mileage by known opposition players masquerading as teachers’ representative organisations.
Nyawo said the Apex Council was meeting today and if those involved in yesterday’s demonstration were genuine, they would have forwarded their grievances for deliberations.
“If they are genuine trade unionists, let us tell them that all unions table their challenges through the Apex Council and any issues synonymous with their perceived concerns are best and formally discussed via that platform. This is why we are having the Apex Council meeting tomorrow (today) in preparation for a National Joint Negotiating Council meeting on the following day,” Nyawo said.
Chinamasa yesterday refused to answer questions on civil servants’ outstanding salaries.