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Soldiers force Biti to hold rally in the bush

By Fungi Kwaramba

HARARE – There was drama in Mashonaland West yesterday when dozens of soldiers and hundreds of Zanu PF militia forced MDC secretary general Tendai Biti to hold a rally in the bush instead of Darwendale Stadium as tensions ahead of elections rise in Zimbabwe.

Nelson Chamisa, Elton Mangoma and Tendai Biti at the MDC-T rally in Bulawayo. Over 25 000 supporters are estimated to have packed into the White City Stadium.
Nelson Chamisa, Elton Mangoma and Tendai Biti at an MDC-T rally in Bulawayo. Over 25 000 supporters are estimated to have packed into the White City Stadium last year.

The soldiers ran amok yesterday morning, bringing down tents, tearing posters and threatening MDC officials who were preparing for the rally. According to Biti, hundreds of Zanu PF militia were brought in by buses to intimidate MDC supporters.

As Biti was addressing the rally, the Zanu PF youths burnt grass around the area the Finance minister was addressing to scare people away.

“They bused tonnes of people from all over and what I can say is that the intimidation is just too high and our supporters might get killed. To imagine this is Darwendale close to Harare, what about in remote areas?

“We still had to force the rally to go ahead, we had a police clearance. Instead of cancelling the rally, we quickly cleared a bush where they still attempted to burn us after putting the grass around us alight.

“But the message we put to people at the rally is that they must expect this kind of intimidation but we will not fear, we will not blink and we will continue pushing,” said Biti. He said they apprehended one Zanu PF activist whom they handed over to the police.

The soldiers were reportedly shouting that no MDC meeting would ever be held in the area and it took the intervention of co-Home Affairs minister Theresa Makone and Defence minister Emerson Mnangagwa for the meeting to go ahead.

MDC officials who were at the venue said they found themselves surrounded by menacing soldiers in full military gear who forced them to leave the stadium. Makone, who is also the chairperson of the MDC women’s assembly, confirmed the incident and the interventions done to rescue the rally.

“I was told that soldiers were destroying the set up of a rally in Darwendale. I spoke to minister Mnangangwa and minister Sekeramayi and both professed ignorance on the disruptions.

“But minister Mnangagwa managed to talk to the military bosses and the soldiers withdrew. It seems there are elements within the ranks of the state organs who take it upon themselves to cause mayhem in the country and we have to root them out. What we want is a free and fair election without violence,” said Makone.

MDC organising secretary for Mashonaland West, Wilson Makanyaire said the soldiers left them terrified after forcing them into the bush.

“About 150 soldiers came to the stadium where we had pitched tents and told us that we could not hold the rally. They said Morgan Tsvangirai was a sell-out and chased us away. We are now assembled in a bush and the youths are clearing the space so that we can at least have a rally,” said Makanyaire in a telephone interview with the Daily News on Sunday.

The activists reported the matter to the police but failed to get assistance. “The soldiers claimed the area belongs to the army and when we went to the police they said they could not help us as they were also scared,” said Makanyaire.

Makanyaire said while the soldiers were chasing them away, hundreds of Zanu PF supporters swarmed the township near the venue singing denigrating songs of the MDC and creating further tension.

MDC spokesperson, Douglas Mwonzora said the intimidation by the soldiers and Zanu PF militia was a co-ordinated plan to dampen the MDC’s morale ahead of elections which could be held next year. The rally that was supposed to start at 10 am only kicked off after 2 pm in the bush.

Contacted for comment, police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena cut off the call without responding to questions and later his phone rang unanswered. Elsewhere in Mutoko East, Mwonzora claimed soldiers from 2.1 infantry battalion tore MDC party posters yesterday morning.

Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) which has monitors seeded around the country says soldiers are already active in Midlands, Manicaland and Mashonaland provinces. A report released by Crisis Coalition last year titled “The Military Factor in Zimbabwe’s Political and Electoral Affairs” details the extent to which soldiers are involved in political and social matters. Daily News

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