President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has been promising all and sundry that it is a new dispensation, but the arrest of Mthwakazi Republic Party (MRP) officials at the weekend could be an indicator that there is little if any change at all.
The group was allegedly bashed by law enforcement agents after they were detained for protesting against Mnangagwa at a church service in Bulawayo.
Demonstrating and picketing are guaranteed rights in the Constitution and detaining the activists is tantamount to the authorities shooting themselves in the foot, as it shows that the new administration is averse to people expressing themselves, just as the old one was.
Whatever you think of MRP and their approach to issues – that does not in any way justify the way they were treated and there is need for authorities to ensure that the rule of law is maintained, no matter the circumstances.
Mnangagwa, as the new leader, should have a thick skin and know that such demonstrations shall be a hallmark of his time as a leader and detaining the activists is not always the answer.
The question the new government should be asking itself is whether the activists have a reason to demonstrate and try and meet them halfway.
Trying to pretend their grievances are unimportant will only serve to galvanise others into demonstrating against Mnangagwa and his government and that is a powder keg.
Whatever people believe about Gukurahundi, the truth is that civilians were killed and this is something that cannot be wished away.
Thus, instead of trying to crush demonstrations, Mnangagwa should ensure that the National Peace and Reconciliation Bill comes into law and that Zimbabweans begin to speak freely and openly about what happened in the 1980s.
It is not lost on many Zimbabweans that several parliamentarians burnt the midnight oil trying to block the passage of the Bill and with that an opportunity for reconciliation was squandered.
The only way to end those demonstrations is for Mnangagwa to begin an honest conversation with those affected by the killings and seek an end to the bitterness that continues to endure to this day.
Bureaucrats and the President’s advisers may be dismissive of the protests and the Gukurahundi issue, but this is one thing that will haunt this administration if it is not handled well.
With elections later this year, Mnangagwa’s presidency will not depend on the Gukurahundi issue, but how he handles it will be telling in what percentage of the vote he gets.