By Fungi Kwaramba
Police ran riot in Harare yesterday as they indiscriminately shot at pedestrians and motorists after they ruthlessly descended on protesters who were demonstrating against the deteriorating economic situation that has triggered a wave of price increases and shortages of some basic commodities.
Daring demonstrators had caught the law enforcement agents unawares and caused the closure of several shops in the capital city’s central business district.
Several shops were stoned by the angry demonstrators who were demanding that President Robert Mugabe’s government practically deal with the economic meltdown that has driven many to the brink.
As the protesters ran through the streets, riot police – armed to the teeth – swooped on the demonstrators and fired warning shots, triggering panic and pandemonium as vendors and money changers ran for dear life.
Several people, including journalists, were injured in the ensuing melee.
The heavily-armed police officers combed the streets of Harare and eventually besieged the offices of the MDC — whose youth assembly has been backing the anti-Mugabe protests organised by radical pressure group, Tajamuka/Sesijikile.
MDC spokesperson, Obert Gutu, reacted angrily to the police clampdown yesterday.
He said the law enforcement agents were always eager to provoke the country’s biggest opposition party so as to silence civilians from demanding their rights.
“The ZRP (Zimbabwe Republic Police) is always invariably provocative each time that the MDC and other concerned Zimbabweans embark on peaceful and lawful demonstrations. The police harassed our youths and caused mayhem at our party head office as they sought to thuggishly and illegally stop a peaceful and lawful demonstration,” said Gutu.
“MDC youths are vigilant all the time. They participated in the demonstration because this is a legitimate and patriotic cause. We would like to condemn the police for conducting themselves in a fascist and brutal manner towards our party youths and other Zimbabweans who participated in the demonstration,” added the MDC spokesperson.
With Mugabe adamant that there are saboteurs in his deeply-divided Zanu PF—and maintaining that he will remain in power notwithstanding the escalating crisis—his government has been ruthless in crushing any form of dissent.
The seemingly clueless Zanu PF government is currently crafting laws to further tighten screws on freedom of expression through the Computer Crime and Cyber Crime Bill.
In a joint address on Wednesday, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, along with Industry and Information ministers Mike Bimha and Christopher Mushowe accused the social media and mainstream media of causing panic.
Just like Mugabe, Chinamasa said the economic meltdown that has resulted in a spike of prices came as a surprise to government.
“It was a bombshell. What happened was not in sync with the prevailing situation in the economy across all sectors…the developments in the economy are very positive, there is positive growth in the economy… all economic indicators are in the right direction. The trajectory is on a growth path,” said the Finance minister.
“The cause was social media, which means that it is a security issue. There is a political agenda, a regime change agenda. We are going to seriously look at what happened with a view to take corrective measures in the security arena. We need to understand social media and the forces behind it…….they have given us a timely warning about their intentions and clearly we will take the necessary measures to counter those nefarious activities.”
On the other hand, Energy minister Samuel Undenge also accused the media of engaging in “unfounded negative publicity meant to discredit government.”
“Motorists must not be influenced by negative publicity, mainly through social media, some of which is simply intended to tarnish the image of government,” said Undenge.
Despite the clampdown, Tajamuka spokesperson Promise Mkwananzi said they remain unfazed and will continue holding “peaceful” demonstrations to push government into addressing the plight of Zimbabweans.
“We organised a peaceful protest against the worsening fiscal situation in the country, but as usual, the police, unprovoked, began throwing teargas and live bullets at protesters, this is despite the fact the police were informed of the protest,” said Mkwananzi.
However, Zanu PF Harare South legislator Shadreck Mashayamombe said there was nothing peaceful about the Tajamuka demonstrations as they destroyed his Ford Ranger vehicle which is emblazoned with the face of First Lady Grace Mugabe.
“They have destroyed my car and I am sure I would need at least $10 000 to have it repaired. I did not provoke them in any way, they were not peaceful at all and I would like to call upon the MDC leadership to call its youths to order because we do not want violence in the country,” said Mashayamombe. Daily News