Row over police crackdown

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s government is using Rhodesian tactics to deal with growing dissent as a fresh crackdown on protesters reportedly netted 87 people countrywide, a former Cabinet minister has said. BY RICHARD CHIDZA

Source: Row over police crackdown – NewsDay Zimbabwe September 19, 2016

But authorities yesterday rubbished reports that they used live ammunition to quell protests at the weekend organised by opposition parties who defied a standing ban.
Former State Security minister Didymus Mutasa, one of Mugabe’s closest wartime aides and now convener of the opposition coalition National Electoral Reforms Agenda (Nera) yesterday said he was saddened by government brutality.

“As of now, we have received reports that in Harare 33 people were arrested or picked up by people in police uniform, 16 in Midlands, Matabeleland South (15), Masvingo (15), Mashonaland Central (2), Manicaland (1) and Mashonaland East (5). At least 125 assault cases involving police have also been reported from Zaka, to Makoni South, Epworth, Marondera and Bindura,” Mutasa said.

Police, however, disputed Mutasa’s figures including reports that they used live ammunition against protesters and the numbers of those arrested or reportedly brutalised.
In a statement yesterday, police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Paul Nyathi said only 21 people had been arrested “for engaging in acts of disorderly conduct by blocking smooth flow of traffic and intimidating the general public to side with them and partake in their illegal activities”.

“For the record, no firearm or ‘live bullets’ were used in the perceived protests throughout the country. As police we reiterate that anyone who claims that live bullets were fired at protesters should come forward with the evidence,” Nyathi said.

“We are now left to wonder as to the intention of the people making these frivolous concocted lies.”

Nyathi added that among those arrested were “MDC activists who were openly agitating for violence”.

Mutasa, a senior official in the opposition Zimbabwe People First (ZimPF) party lead by former Vice-President Joice Mujuru, accused police of abductions.

“We have also received 19 cases of abductions and are now worried for the safety of those people taken away without due regard to their rights as enshrined in the Constitution of the land,” he said.

“It pains me to the very core of my being, to the bottom of my heart, that some people in high offices with whom we spent so many years struggling to remove colonialism are using the same tactics that were used against us in the war of liberation.”

Mutasa added: “I worked with Mugabe and operated in the same office with him during our time in Mozambique, but I would have never imagined that the same treatment we all received from Ian Smith (former Rhodesian Prime Minister) would be used on black Zimbabweans by a black government”.

Over a dozen opposition political parties under the Nera banner have been engaging in wild-cat protests against Mugabe’s administration demanding electoral reforms ahead of general elections expected in 2018.

MDC-T vice-president Nelson Chamisa said at least five MPs were arrested in the protest melee, among them Fani Munengami (Glen View North), Trevor Saruwaka (Mutare Central), Ronia Bunjira (Harare), Senator Lilian Timveos (Midlands) and Nomathemba Ndlovu (Matabeleland South).

“Munengami was brutalised and we are worried by a growing trend that seems to indicate a swell in police numbers at times matching citizens. It seems some groups in police uniform are out to tarnish the image of the law enforcement agents through their conduct,” Chamisa said without elaborating.

MDC-T spokesperson, Obert Gutu said Saturday’s events proved that Mugabe has “declared war against innocent and unarmed civilians” who are seeking to exercise their constitutional right to engage in peaceful demonstrations.

“Throughout the length and breadth of the country, armed police officers and hundreds of Zanu PF thugs and hooligans were deployed, specifically, to harass, intimidate and assault people who were peacefully engaged in public demonstrations demanding the adoption of electoral reforms, among other key demands from the toiling masses of Zimbabwe,” Gutu said.

“Even small cities and towns such as Masvingo, Chipinge, Gokwe, Chiredzi and Gutu-Mupandawana, were teeming with hundreds of armed police officers and other security agents, specifically assigned to violently thwart the peaceful demonstrations organised by Nera.”

He alleged political activists and thousands of non-political activists were “thuggishly” rounded up, arrested and severely tortured.

“Zimbabwe is now under siege from the brutal and collapsing Zanu PF regime. The people of Zimbabwe are now prisoners in their own country, held captive by a cruel, insensitive and rogue regime that is obsessed with the politics of power retention,” Gutu added.

A standing ban on all protests by police especially in Harare has been defied and sporadic protests continue almost on a daily basis.

Meanwhile, quizzed on the morality of criticising a government he was part of for over three decades and whose violent tendencies were well-documented even before he was forced out, Mutasa said he has always questioned Mugabe’s style of governance.

“I was expelled for questioning some of these things, but I did not always do it in public. I was forced out of government for a short-while after opposing the ESAP (Economic Structural Adjustment Program) in the early 1990s,” Mutasa claimed.

“My expulsion two years ago came because, along with Mujuru, we opposed the way the country was being governed. When I confronted Mugabe over the abuse of the then VP he threatened to beat me up physically.”