By Mashudu Netsianda
Hwange Colliery Company Limited (HCCL) has approached the High Court seeking an order directing acting Police Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga to deploy anti-riot police to eject people protesting at its premises.
HCCL has been locked in a long standing labour dispute with its employees which saw the workers’ spouses protesting since Monday last week.
Wives of HCCL employees have been demanding that the coal mining company fulfils its pledge to pay them outstanding salaries after agreeing to a scheme of arrangement last year.
Hundreds of women camped at the management office in Hwange where they used tree branches to block management from entering the premises. Some of them have been sleeping at the premises as part of their demonstration.
HCCL, through its lawyers Majoko and Majoko Legal Practitioners, yesterday filed an urgent chamber application at the Bulawayo High Court citing Police Comm-Gen Matanga, the officer commanding police in Matabeleland North and 10 spouses of its employees who organised the demonstrations as respondents.
In his founding affidavit, HCCL representative, Mr Allen Masiya, said they want an order directing the police bosses to discharge the functions of their office in terms of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) as the regulating authority by dispersing the “unlawful” gathering of demonstrators.
The company wants the protestors to be prevented from disrupting coal mining activities.
“On 29 January 2018, a fairly large and belligerent group of persons numbering more than 200, including the third to 10th respondents, mostly women, descended on the applicant’s offices, chanting slogans and denouncing management and they were waving placards. They forced their way through the gate to the HCCL office and all efforts by the applicant’s security personnel to prevent the invasion failed as the demonstrators outnumbered them,” said Mr Masiya.
He said despite making a report, police in Hwange refused to intervene, saying the demonstrators were expressing their constitutional rights.
“The applicant reported the disturbances to the police at Hwange Police Station and was advised by the officer-in-charge that the demonstrations have not been sanctioned. A police report was filed so that police could intervene and restore order since the gathering was unlawful and in violation of POSA. The officer in charge expressed hesitancy in intervening and expressed the view that the demonstrations are provided for in the constitution and as such legal,” said Mr Masiya.
HCCL’s lawyers said although sections 58 and 59 of the Constitution provides the rights to assemble and demonstrate, the fundamental rights and freedoms must be exercised reasonably and with due regards to the rights and freedoms of other persons.
“Section 56 of the Constitution admits to no doubt that the right to privacy entails and includes the right to not have property entered without permission.
The demonstrators continue to violate the applicant’s right to privacy,” said the lawyers.
The lawyers said the protestors are free to demonstrate outside the HCCL premises and should not interfere with the applicant’s rights.
The lawyers said the demonstrators were in breach of the provisions of the law.
“They have been making noise and disturbance, encumbering and obstructing free passage in and out of the HCCL premises,” they said.
Mr Masiya said on Tuesday the demonstrators used logs and human shields to barricade the main entrance into the colliery.
“The protestors on a daily basis make effigies and mock coffins inscribed with the names of the applicant’s general manager and other senior executives.
The first and second respondents (acting Comm- Gen Matanga and officer commanding police in Matabeleland North Senior Assistant Commissioner Jonathan Chituku) have done very little to protect the applicant in the face of criminal behaviour and they have condoned lawlessness,” he said .
Mr Masiya said they were seeking an order compelling the two police bosses to direct their subordinates to take the necessary steps to contain the “volatile” situation by deploying anti-riot police.
“Applicant prays that this matter be heard as an urgent application because there is a real likelihood of the breach of peace for as long as the HCCL premises remain under siege. The demonstrators are most obstructive and interfere with the applicant’s business,” he said.
On Friday last week Home Affairs and Culture Minister Dr Obert Mpofu visited HCCL and addressed the protestors. During his visit, he asked the demonstrators to remove the barricades into the offices and allow management into the premises, but they refused saying they will continue camping at the gate until their demands are met.
Dr Mpofu said he had been sent by President Emmerson Mnangagwa to listen to their concerns as Government is committed to addressing workers’ welfare. The Chronicle