OPPOSITION political parties yesterday vowed to go ahead with their planned mega demonstration today to press for implementation of electoral reforms despite the police’s last-minute attempts to scuttle the protest citing security concerns.
BY EVERSON MUSHAVA /Xolisani Ncube
But, Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo, whose ministry is in charge of the Zimbabwe Republic Police, warned that State security agents would not hesitate to descend heavily on organisers of the protest march if they remained defiant.
“We will not tolerate any illegal demonstration. If they elect to march unlawfully, the police are there to protect citizens from lawbreakers,” Chombo said at a Press briefing attended by State Security minister Kembo Mohadi and Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi.
Combo, who doubles as Zanu PF administrator, also defended the police’s heavy-handedness in crushing dissent in the past few weeks, saying “in actual fact, they are being too lenient”.
“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,” Chombo said.
Today’s demonstration comes after police on Wednesday used brute force to crush an MDC-T youth protest march, culminating in an orgy of violence and looting in Harare’s central business district (CBD).
But 18 parties, working under the banner of National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera), yesterday said they had mobilised over 150 000 supporters to demonstrate in Harare today over government’s reluctance to implement electoral reforms to level the political playing field ahead of the 2018 elections.
This is despite Officer Commanding Harare, Chief Superintendent Newbert Saunyama’s letter dated August 15, advising Nera to shelve its planned demo and send representatives to petition the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) to implement the required reforms.
Part of the letter read: “This office is discouraging the issue of marching in the central business district considering the number of participants, ie, 150 000 to be involved in your street demonstration.
“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 headquarters rather than engaging in street demonstration.”
This prompted Nera lawyer and MDC-T secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora to file a court challenge against the police’s decision on the matter.
“We say no to the legal advice the police are giving us. As usual, we have gone to the court and we expect a hearing any time, as you know the High Court works 24 hours,” Mwonzora said, adding that they were going ahead with preparations for the march despite the court challenge.
“The police never cited any other reason that they suspect there will be violence or that they have manpower shortage. This is a peaceful protest. In fact, 150 000 people are just very few compared to the (Zanu PF) million-man march which the police never said would disrupt traffic and was allowed by the same police.”
Ruling on the matter is expected this morning.
Addressing journalists in the capital, Nera convener and Zimbabwe People First (ZimPF) founding member Didymus Mutasa urged all opposition parties to mobilise their members to participate in the planned march.
“The march for comprehensive electoral reforms will go ahead,” Mutasa declared. “All parties should come in their numbers to give a loud national statement. We need comprehensive electoral reforms to move away from the culture of disputed elections.”
Mutasa, who was flanked by MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai, his deputy Nelson Chamisa, ZimPF spokesperson Jealousy Mawarire, Transform Zimbabwe leader Jacob Ngarivhume and Mwonzora, implored Sadc to intervene and force Mugabe to implement the reforms to avoid another disputed election outcome.
Zimbabwe’s civil society groups currently in Mbabane, Swaziland, were lobbying Sadc member States to debate the country’s worsening socio-economic and political crises.
Mutasa said most opposition parties had committed themselves to participating in today’s demonstration although Zimbabwe Development Party leader Kisinoti Mukwazhi and his Voice of Zimbabwe counterpart Precision Muzadzi had distanced themselves from the event.
The two accused Tsvangirai of blowing a golden opportunity to demand electoral reforms when he was Prime Minister in the inclusive government and had the majority in Parliament between 2008 and 2013.
“The whole Nera thing is confused. Why would they demonstrate against Zec instead of lobbying for reforms through Parliament?” Muzadzi queried.
But, Tsvangirai blamed Zanu PF for stalling electoral reforms.