BULAWAYO – Residents in the western areas of the second city woke up yesterday to see a huge presence of riot police who were anticipating another round of protests.
Apparently, the police were reacting to fake news posted on WhatsApp.
While the police and army have for the past three weeks been a common sight in high density suburbs around Bulawayo, law enforcement agents took their vigilance to another level yesterday.
The Daily News witnessed a number of police officers in full gear in the early hours of yesterday, strategically positioned on different spots in the suburbs with checkpoints on major roads leading to the city centre.
National police spokesperson senior assistant commissioner Charity Charamba could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Police sources said the move was meant to ambush potential protesters after fake news pointing to another protest went viral on social media.
“From Monday 11 February to Friday 15 February 2019, we need to tell our political leadership once again that enough is enough. Enough is enough,” reads one of the WhatsApp posts in part.
“Prices of basic commodities are still going up despite assurances that things will improve. The announced fuel price hikes are causing more pain. Why should we suffer everyday like this? The standard of living has become unbearable while our leaders continue to enjoy themselves at our expense, the taxpayers.
“Our kids are not going to school as teachers are totally incapacitated. They can’t pay our teachers and civil servants a decent salary yet they fly themselves to seek medical services abroad.”
The social media post went on: “Soldiers should return to the barracks and allow us to exercise our constitutional right to protest and petition our leadership. We are not at war. No more bloodshed. Taramba isu”.
Bulawayo, which is usually a quiet city, shocked many last month when its long-suffering residents became violent during a three-day stay-away organised by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.
The army and police responded with a massive crackdown, in a development that saw hundreds being arrested and tortured.
According to Matabeleland Collective, a grouping of civic society organisations, over 1 000 residents have been subjected to army torture during the crackdown in the aftermath of the protests.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa recently denied any human rights violations by the country’s security details.
“We would want to see evidence where the 17 people were killed, where were they buried. Let us have the relatives who will say I lost a son, I lost a daughter, I lost a cousin and I lost a relative by the hands of the army,” Mnangagwa said.
Meanwhile, respected lawyer David Coltart came out guns blazing against Mnangagwa’s denial of human rights violations in the country.
“Mnangagwa disputes the fact that several women have been raped and says they should report the crimes to the police,” Coltart said.
“Rape is a harrowing crime and far more difficult to prove than murder, especially when the crime has been committed against mothers under threat of being shot.
“Mnangagwa should know that as a lawyer. He should know that very few rapes are reported worldwide because of the massive trauma women face, especially because they know that convictions are often difficult to obtain,” he said.
“As a lawyer Mnangagwa should know all of this. So, his dismissal of these allegations is not only disingenuous but also shameful,” fumed Coltart.
“He rather needs to ask himself the questions — who are these women who have told numerous people they have been raped? Are they politicians seeking to score points? If not — and there is no proof of that — why would they concoct these stories, causing shame and anguish for themselves in the process?
“Is there any possibility that they are genuine and that they fear the consequences of reporting to a regime that has shown zero inclination to hold soldiers to account for their actions?”