BY Staff Reporters
PEACEFUL protesters, among them prominent novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga and MDC Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere, were arrested yesterday as heavily armed soldiers and police crushed the planned protests.
Human rights lawyer Obey Shava and his three MDC Alliance clients, Joanah Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova were also arrested near the Zanu PF headquarters on their way to Harare Central Police Station for their routine remand reporting in line with their bail conditions.
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi confirmed the arrest of five people, including Dangarembga and Mahere, but said the situation was calm across the country.
“No reports of violence were received by police and security services as they continued to conduct patrols, roadblocks and checkpoints to ensure safety, security and health of Zimbabweans,” Nyathi said.
Several arrests were recorded across the country, including that of Masvingo-based Disability Amalgamation Community Trust activist Henry Chivhanga.
Others are Mzingaye Matthew Thaka from Bulawayo, Edward Dzeka, MDC Alliance councillor for Chegutu, Lloyd Kashiri, Nkulumani Matoboto and lsheanesu Chimunyemba.
However, one of the organisers of the protests, Godfrey Tsenengamu said the action by authorities was a clear indication of panic.
“What has happened so far is an indication that the authorities have panicked and this is the reason why they blocked the major roads and cleared the city centre,” the former Zanu PF youth leader said.
“They were afraid of July 31 and they just care about power. We are of the view that this was a success considering how we have managed to get the attention of the leadership and how authorities have responded to the call.”
“They have deployed every soldier, every police officer, including those who were on off days to come back and reinforce. This is an indication that when people unite, they can bring a system down,” he said.
MDC Alliance deputy chairperson Job Sikhala said: “The people showed that we are more sophisticated than the oppressor. We expressed ourselves and we had two clear plans when we called for this action.”
He said they planned the day knowing well that the State was ready to unleash its entire arsenal to deal with the protesters and unleash its “massive military arsenal against the citizens”.
“Today, Zimbabwe witnessed an unprecedented shutdown. Everything was at a standstill, this was Zimbabwe speaking. This was your victory, you did not support this regime and out of fear for their cruelty, you stayed home. They intended to butcher innocent citizens, but you are cleverer than them,” he said.
Several shops remained closed in Bulawayo while soldiers patrolled the suburbs in Zimbabwe’s second capital.
Police on Thursday abducted relatives of prominent journalist Mduduzi Mathuthu who they are hunting for in connection with the protests.
Lawyer Nqobani Sithole filed an application to compel police to release Mathuthu’s nephew Tawanda Muchehiwa.
In Domboshava, soldiers pounced on people who wanted to travel to the city centre, beating them up and forcing them back home.
In the resort town of Kariba, mayor George Masendu said many activists were forced to take a back seat as State security agents “visited” them and warned them against protesting.
“The majority of our activists were forced not to take part in the peaceful demonstration as they were visited by State security agents, including police, army and members of the Central Intelligence Organisation since Wednesday,” Masendu said.
The situation was the same in Bindura, Marondera and other towns as soldiers remained on the ground, threatening to release dogs on shop owners who refused to close their shops.
In Chitungwiza, some shops remained open and a few vendors were at their stalls around 9am to assess the situation.
Civilians were allegedly beaten up at Zengeza 5 corner shops with the soldiers and police forcing them to go back home.
Gweru also resembled a ghost city as the uniformed forces blocked people from entering the city centre.
In Mkoba, armed police and soldiers sealed both ends of a dusty road leading to the house of MDC Alliance organising secretary Amos Chibaya in Mkoba 13.
One of Chibaya’s neighbours said she was barred from going to town to restock her tuckshop, while at Mkoba 12 turn-off near Mkoba Teachers College, some soldiers spent the better part of the day singing revolutionary songs to intimidate residents.
In Chivhu, police dogs were used to force the closing of shops as other security officers were moved around suburbs ordering people to stay indoors.
Mbizo Member of Parliament Settlement Chikwinya said he was intimidated at his home in Kwekwe by suspected State security agents on Thursday night.
“They visited me last night with two white double cab vehicles, stopped at my gate for about 15 minutes and left around 9pm.”
Binga North MP Prince Dubeko Sibanda said people in his constituency were ready to go to the streets, but refrained after heavily armed soldiers and police started patrolling the business centres.
Commenting on the arrests, British ambassador to Zimbabwe Mellanie Robinson expressed disapproval over Harare’s attitude towards peaceful protesters.
“Very concerned about reports of abductions, arrests and threats targeting those exercising their constitutional rights, freedom of expression is vital even in times of COVID-19, with social distancing observed.”
MDC Alliance secretary for presidential affairs Jameson Timba condemned the arrest of protesters.
“The arrest of the MDC Alliance spokesperson (Mahere) is a sign of desperation and paranoia of the regime. The right to protest and petition is a constitutional right of every Zimbabwean.
“This is shocking, but we are aware that they are targeting MDC Alliance leadership. It’s a sign of desperation,” he said.
Mahere led a handful of protesters in Mount Pleasant, Harare, who waved placards denouncing corruption, arbitrary arrests and looting, before her arrest.
“We all wore masks during the protest. We all observed social distancing. It was completely peaceful. Section 59 of the Constitution guarantees the right to demonstrate and present petitions peacefully. We said we would support this citizen-driven action and we kept our word,” Mahere said after her arrest.
Dangarembga was arrested in Borrowdale. She was bundled into a police truck by armed officers together with a colleague she identified as Julie Barnes.
The accomplished international author carried a placard calling for reforms and for the release of journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, who was arrested last week under a government crackdown together with Transform Zimbabwe leader Jacob Ngarivhume.
Zanu PF spokesperson Patrick Chinamasa said he was yet to receive any reports of disturbances across the country.