BY MOSES MATENGA
POLICE have increased their presence in and out of Harare in apparent readiness to quash attempts by restless opposition supporters and workers in the wake of threats of massive protests to pressure President Emmerson Mnangagwa to end the crisis bedevilling the country.
There has been massive deployment in perceived hot spots in the capital and beyond, with police officers thoroughly searching public and private vehicles in and out of the capital city.
Observers said the police presence had increased since last week’s threats by opposition MDC leader Nelson Chamisa that he had dropped his dialogue calls with Mnangagwa and would be going all out to push for action to address the challenges in the country.
Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi, however, described the heavy police presence as normal deployments, saying it was part of the force’s constitutional mandate to maintain law and order.
“It is a normal deployment by police to make sure there is law and order in the central business districts (CBDs) throughout the country and that people go about their day-to-day activities.
Basically police are taking their mandate to make sure there is law and order,” Nyathi said yesterday.
Asked whether the increase was in response to calls for more demonstrations by Chamisa last week and the engaging of MDC youths into flash demonstrations starting last week, Nyathi said: “Not at all. What police officers are doing is part of their mandate to maintain law and order.”
But MDC deputy spokesperson Luke Tamborinyoka said Zimbabwe had become a police State and noted that the increase of police officers in Harare and other cities was to quash any demonstrations.
“Zimbabwe has become a police State, the guilty are afraid,” Tamborinyoka said.
“We have tried to engage in peaceful protests, but they have been denying us our constitutional right. They have been giving flimsy excuses whenever we notified them of intentions to engage in protests and we have realised we do not need to notify them anymore. We have drawn a line in the sand.”
Tamborinyoka said the clampdown on MDC youths after last week’s demonstration in Harare was clear testimony of a regime in panic, but warned they remain desperate attempts to scare people away from their democratic right.
Last week, the MDC said it was rolling nationwide protests, piling pressure on Mnangagwa’s government which they have consistently described as illegitimate.
Pressure has been mounting on Mnangagwa of late, with activists and vendors threatening demonstrations against corruption while civil servants and other workers are also plotting a demonstration to air their concerns on the falling economy.
Meanwhile, concern has been raised by stakeholders over the behaviour of police officers during demonstrations, with the law enforcement agents accused of targeting women, most of whom will be going about their business in the CBD.
Zimbabwe Peace Project director Jestina Mukoko said police were failing to do their mandated task of protecting citizens.
“I think it is regrettable and your observation is correct. We have seen women being kicked, all sorts of instruments being used against women and it is unfortunate coming from our police, even from images we have actually seen police doing this. For me, anyone in police uniform, I am bound to think they are police mandated to protect lives. I will actually say they are violating what people believe is their mandate,” she said.
“Even if people are demonstrating, it is not a crime to demonstrate and petition according to our Constitution. The best way to approach this is to allow citizens to enjoy the rights guaranteed in the Constitution and when that happens, it means the police will steer clear of processes where people are demonstrating and petitioning and avoid the danger of them also attacking women going about their usual business.”
MDC women assembly spokesperson for Harare, Kudzai Kadzombe, said: “The ZRP has become the worst abuser and perpetrator of violence against women. Whenever we have our MDC political gatherings and demonstrations the police are now targeting women and older women for that matter. In our culture we know that our mothers and grandmothers are the pillars of our community and hence are respected and valued. The ZRP has gone on a rampage to brutalise our mothers and grandmothers, quite unfortunate.
“A few examples are of the demonstration done on August 18 and 20 of November 2019 at Africa Unity Square and Morgan Tsvangirai House. We saw women who collapsed, suffered broken arms, jaws, legs and skulls from the police brutality. Some now have permanent injuries from the police action.”