By Fungi Kwaramba and Mugove Tafirenyika
President Robert Mugabe’s panicking government yesterday deployed thousands of heavily-armed riot police in and around Harare, triggering shameful chaos in the capital’s central business district (CBD) and causing traffic mayhem during the early morning rush hour, as the highly strung cops fought running battles with a few peaceful protesters.
The Daily News witnessed desperate ordinary Zimbabweans who were queuing for their money at banks, and who had absolutely nothing to do with yesterday’s planned demonstration, being caught up in the pandemonium as the uncompromising police fired teargas indiscriminately and randomly charged at any and all gatherings of people.
And with the small band of protesters subsequently employing a new toyi-toying tactic code-named “Popcorn” — which involved holding sporadic and ever mobile demos at different locations to both confuse and tire the police — the “army” of law enforcement agents duly ended up looking stretched, running from one street to the other.
And as the police’s street patrol forces were running amok among ordinary citizens going about their daily chores, water cannons were also similarly wreaking havoc, haphazardly wetting and colouring anyone who was within the vicinity of the trucks, and forcing the temporary closure of some shops along First Street.
By early afternoon, police had called in more reinforcements, with more patrols and random harassments of passers-by, as the increasingly desperate law enforcement agents went for broke and worked to frustrate the efforts of the protesters to leave a petition at Parliament, as they remonstrated against Zimbabwe’s deepening rot and the recent introduction of bond notes.
“We will defy Mugabe and his police force as they attempt to force bond notes on us and try to hold cosmetic consultations using Parliament when they have already put the notes into circulation,” an angry MDC youth assembly president, Happymore Chidziva, who was one of the organisers of the demo, said.
“The police can beat and throw teargas at us but we are prepared to mix and mingle with the smoke. We have no problem with that and this is a message to Mugabe that the season of ungovernability has started,” he added.
Radical pressure group, Tajamuka/Sesijikle, whose leaders were arrested on Monday ahead of yesterday’s demo, said its members would also continue to demand that the increasingly frail nonagenarian and his warring Zanu PF lieutenants quit office soon.
“We want Mugabe and the entire Zanu PF leadership to go, to allow a process of structural transformation to take place in the country.
“We are only too aware that the origin of this crisis lies in a failed leadership that has captured the State and its institutions for obvious reasons of power retention and continued looting,” its spokesperson Hardlife Mudzingwa said.
Ahead of yesterday’s planned demo, the government had signalled its clear intention to crush the protest when police arrested Tajamuka leaders Promise Mkwananzi and Mehluli Dube on Monday, after they addressed a media briefing ahead of the demo in the capital.
Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo had also on Tuesday said that it was wrong for pro-democracy groups to protest, especially after the government had introduced the bond notes to ease the country’s dire cash crisis.
“My workers at the farm are happy that they now have money, so why demonstrate? You don’t want money? Unless you are getting money from somewhere else,” Chombo told journalists.
Earlier in the week, the government had also ramped up the deployment of police and other security agents in and around Harare, with water cannons and truckloads of riot police patrolling the streets.
Yesterday, cops and other law enforcement agents were manning roadblocks and carrying out random searches on ordinary Zimbabweans going about their daily life, causing immense traffic chaos and inconvenience to commuters.
Opposition leader and former prime minister in the government of national unity, Morgan Tsvangirai, said the heavy deployment of police and other security agents betrayed the fact that the government was in “panic mode”.
“This is the homestretch for the crumbling, paranoid and bankrupt Zanu PF regime. Of course, the regime is terribly afraid of the people. All dictatorships are morbidly fearful of the people.
“This explains why the regime has deployed so many armed police officers and secret service operatives onto the streets of Harare. One thing though is certain, Mugabe and his faction-ridden regime are at the departure lounge. They’re going, make no mistake about that,” MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu thundered.
Afghanistan-based political analyst, Maxwell Saungweme, described the heavy police presence in the capital as yet another indication that the faction-torn ruling party was now “on its last legs”.
“The government is afraid of the people. Mugabe is very afraid of the people. This is why there is a heavy presence of security details on the streets. They know they are not doing right. They know they are wrong. They are afraid of the people peacefully voicing their concerns,” he said.
Harare is witnessing a resurgence of protests after a few weeks of relative calm following a police ban on mass action in the CBD.
Last week, parties coalescing under the banner of the National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera) were forced to abort their planned demo after the country’s powerful, over-arching security structure, the Joint Operations Command (JOC), forced the leaders of the major opposition parties to abandon the protest after the uncompromising securocrats demanded to know the conveners of the planned protest, so that they could hold the concerned people accountable in the event of riots.
Two weeks ago, another planned mass action was aborted after suspected security agents left for dead Patson Dzamara, the young brother of missing journalist-cum-democracy activist Itai, after kidnapping and severely torturing him for hours before the planned demo.
Mugabe, the only leader Zimbabweans have ever known since the country gained independence from Britain in 1980, is facing growing civil unrest over his government’s policies which critics say have ruined the once vibrant economy.
The increasingly frail Zanu PF leader is also battling a cocktail of problems including trying to heal a widening rift within his party caused by his unwillingness to hand over power to a successor, as well as his worsening fall-out with veterans of the liberation struggle. Daily News