The government on Thursday issued a decree banning demonstrations in Harare for the next two weeks in probably the biggest assault on people’s liberties in the past few years.
With Statutory Instrument 101a/2016, the government has removed any pretence of Zimbabwe being a constitutional democracy and all, but issued a state of emergency.
How the authorities approved such a draconian measure boggles the mind, and for older generations, this is a throwback to the colonial era, where the illegal Ian Smith regime employed such tactics to thwart the independence movement.
The statutory instrument sends a chill down the spine, as it shows that once this government is confronted by opposition, it will go to extremes to put it down, no matter how peaceful and legal such dissent is.
There are several provisions of the Constitution that this decree violates and, as some lawyers have pointed out, it is unconstitutional and they will challenge it in court.
For example, our attention has been directed at section 134(f) which provides that all statutory instruments be laid before the National Assembly in accordance with its standing orders and submitted to the Parliamentary Legal Committee for scrutiny.
None of this was done and the Executive, with the connivance of the police, has all, but usurped the power of the Legislature and gone ahead to issue a draconian statutory instrument.
The government may think it is protecting itself and President Robert Mugabe from the numerous protests that have sprung up in recent months, but in reality, the perception most now have or will develop of the President is that he is an authoritarian, who brooks no dissent and that will not win him any favours.
This will only serve to embolden the opposition and civic society organisations to continue with their demonstrations in future, as they would believe such draconian action betrays panic from the Executive.
Mugabe will not suddenly be popular because of this statutory instrument and neither will people’s anger and frustration dissipate; instead they will continue to simmer and it will take even the smallest spark to ignite this powder keg.
What Mugabe has shown is that he is not willing to listen to the people’s grievances and chooses to shield himself behind archaic, anachronistic and unconstitutional provisions just to tighten his grip on power.
The police may be deployed in their numbers, fear may be instilled into people for now, but in the long run, this is an unsustainable strategy for holding onto power.
The use of force and draconian legislation did not work for Smith and it is unlikely to work now, as once the people have found their voice and realised that their silence perpetuates their repression, then they will continue to speak out until they see change