By Helen Kadirire, Blessings Mashaya and Jeffrey Muvundusi
Police arrested several members of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) yesterday to crush protests against an extortionate tax regime introduced last week by Finance minister Mthuli Ncube.
Among the senior ZCTU officials picked up by the law enforcement agents are the union’s president Peter Mutasa and secretary-general Japhet Moyo.
Several other union officials in Bulawayo, Mutare and Masvingo were also arrested.
Hours after Ncube had introduced a punitive two percent tax on electronic transactions, the ZCTU revealed plans to unleash its members into the streets to force Treasury to reverse the tax.
As had been expected, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) disallowed the protest, consistent with last month’s ban on public gatherings to curb the spread of cholera which has killed over 50 people.
Infuriated by the ban, union leaders vowed to press on with the demonstrations, while at the same time petition the courts to overturn the proscription.
In its application, ZCTU counsel Noble Chinhanu said denying a peaceful demonstration under the guise of a public emergency was the prerogative of the president, adding that the police did not make reference to a proclamation by President Emmerson Mnangagwa in their announcement.
“Even if allowed, it would only subsist for one month, while a state of emergency can subsist for 14 days. This, therefore, renders the ban baseless,” Chinhanu argued.
Harare Civil Court magistrate Lazini Ncube dismissed the union’s application with costs yesterday afternoon, saying the police ban remained in force until the cholera outbreak has been contained.
Ncube concurred with the State’s reasoning that the reasons for denying the demonstration were made in terms of the Constitution which allows for limitations of rights and freedoms.
It was the State’s argument that there has been discontentment in central Harare which could easily turn ugly, citing the death of a civilian who was shot in the capital on Wednesday.
“Tempers are still high among civilians; such peaceful demonstration could not be authorised…There is also cholera that made it undesirable for the march to proceed as gatherings cannot go on in light of the epidemic.,” the State argued, adding that instead of conducting a demonstration, the ZCTU could easily have asked a few of its members to present a petition to the Finance minister, stating their grievances.
Before even the courts could sit down to hear the ZCTU’s arguments, the ZRP had deployed a huge number of police officers in various cities to deal with demonstrators.
Early in the morning, police in Harare arrested Mutasa and Moyo at their offices and detained them at Harare Central Police Station.
Water cannons and truckloads of heavily-armed Support Unit officers were stationed at Africa Unity Square, right in the heart of the capital.
Pockets of baton-wielding riot police were deployed around Harare’s central business district (CBD).
In Masvingo, heavily-armed police were deployed around the city, with the law enforcement agents arresting some ZCTU members who were detained at Masvingo Central Police Station.
In Mutare, ZRP officers arrested some ZCTU members from their offices and detained them at Mutare Central Police Station.
In Bulawayo, police maintained a heavy presence in the city, setting up check points on all the major roads leading to the city centre to ensure the demo does not take place.
Constant patrols by police in plain clothes and uniformed police could be seen throughout the day in the CBD.
At the ZCTU regional offices in the second city, dozens of police literally barricaded the area along George Silundika, between 13th and 14th Avenue.
Unfazed members of ZCTU could be seen trickling to the offices, a venue where the protest was supposed to start from into the city centre.
About 100 of them gathered at the offices hoping to upstage the law enforcers through numbers, but the police matched them man for man.
After realising that they would put the lives of the members at risk, Ambrose Sibindi, the ZCTU regional director, made an address before ordering everyone to leave peacefully.
He told them that the law only allowed them to notify the police of their intended demo, which they did but the law enforcers saw it fit to block the event citing “flimsy cholera” excuses.
Sibindi, however, said as leadership they were going to hand over their petition against the new tax regime to the Provincial Affairs minister Judith Mhlanga at her Mhlanhlandlela offices.
In a statement, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said it has deployed lawyers to offer emergency legal support services to those seized by the police.
MDC yesterday condemned the heavy presence of the police saying the ‘‘securocratisation’’ of the State was a clear antithesis of democracy and testimony of the “regime’s continued ruling without the popular will of the majority of Zimbabweans”. DailyNews