A HUMAN rights watchdog has said the recent “Mugabe Must Go” protests have all but shamed the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) and proved Zimbabweans are capable of engaging in peaceful demonstrations.
By NQOBANI NDLOVU
Zimbabweans flooded the streets on November 18 demanding former President Robert Mugabe steps down after 37 years of misrule.
The police were conspicuous by their absence during the historic protests that proceeded peacefully under the watchful eye of the military.
Police have been known for their heavy-handedness when dealing with protesters and for their unrestrained use of teargas.
“This was the first time that Zimbabweans have been allowed to exercise their constitutional right to demonstrate and petition without police interference in a long time despite the Constitution being clear in section 59. The recent protests have revealed that the violent parties in protests and demonstrations are actually the police,” the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) said in a letter to the ZRP dated November 23.
The letter, titled Zimbabweans are capable of protesting peacefully, read: “The November 18 protests are sending a message to you Commissioner-General [Augustine Chihuri] and the entire ZRP service to rethink your approach to citizen protests. Indeed, the peace and calm that prevailed on this day must inspire the ZRP not to assume the worst about Zimbabwean citizens.”
Under the country’s laws, the Public Order and Security Act makes it a crime to hold public meetings or street protests without police clearance.
Civic society groups and opposition parties have often accused the ZRP of deliberately denying them permission to hold public gatherings, resulting in violent confrontations, while Zanu PF activists are allowed to do as they wish.
ZPP urged the police to emulate soldiers who allowed Zimbabweans to take to the streets without any hindrance.
“Police are urged to swap provocative and heavy-handed tactics in maintaining law and order to methods used by the military on the day, who were seen and demonstrated they were friends of citizens on the day.”
The ZPP added that the ZRP needed to also learn from countries such as South Africa on crowd control policing methods.
“We must emulate other countries such as SA that maintain a database on protests and public violence. The data collected from this has revealed that policing methods and police conduct are often the catalyst of violence. The ZRP must also keep such data and use scientific methods in crowd control to mitigate unnecessary infringement of people’s rights,” the ZPP said.