HARARE – Soldiers were on Friday deployed into central Harare to reinforce police reaction to a protest organised by more than a dozen political parties seeking electoral reform ahead of the 2018 elections.
One soldier reportedly stoned a protester to death, fuelling further running battles.
Police initially barred the political parties from going ahead with their march and the protesters only got reprieve when they approached the High Court.
The High Court ordered the Home Affairs minister and the police “not to interfere, obstruct, or stop the march but facilitate the applicants’ constitutional and freedom to petition in a peaceful manner.”
However, there was heavy police presence when the electoral reform march started after 11am, and tempers flared resulting in the law enforcers using tear smoke to disperse the marchers.
Most shops and other business outlets closed as protesters burnt tyres in the city centre and a vendors’ used clothes stall at the popular Copacabana market was torched.
Demonstrators barricaded roads with tyres, stones and boulders and some looted shops.
Police beat people up indiscriminately but some unfazed demonstrators hurled stones at the police.
Soldiers were then deployed at violence hotspots and helped the police who used teargas to drive protesters away using truncheons.
The protesters would disband and regroup in other parts of the city.
Protest leaders, Promise Mkwananzi and Sten Zvorwadza were arrested while a student leader, Ostallos Siziba, was abducted by suspected security agents at Copacabana, according to Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC).
Western embassies waded into the ongoing unrest and expressed their concern over recent disturbances.
The Canadian embassy on Friday issued a statement calling for peace and calm.
“The embassy of Canada to Zimbabwe is increasingly concerned with reports of violence and human rights violations in response to public protest. The Embassy of Canada calls for calm and stresses the importance of peaceful dialogue.
“The embassy…reiterates its call on all stakeholders to respect the constitution of Zimbabwe, in particular, the freedom to peacefully demonstrate, the right to personal liberty, the right to personal security and the rights of arrested and detained persons,” read the Canadian statement.
The embassy urged government to “make every effort to ensure that public policing and justice are consistent with the Government’s constitutional obligation to respect basic human rights and freedoms,”
The Australian embassy urged the respect of citizens’ rights.
“The Australian embassy shares the concerns of many Zimbabweans at the violence which has occurred over recent weeks in Zimbabwe. The use of violence is not acceptable under any circumstance.
It added: “…The rule of law, respect for human rights, right to free speech, freedom of assembly and other democratic freedoms are at the heart of the Zimbabwean constitution and must be respected by all parties.”
Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC-T president, said through his spokesperson, Luke Tamborinyoka, that the heavy-handed response to what was planned as a peaceful demonstration to push for electoral reform betrayed a partisan relationship between the Zanu PF government and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).
“The government’s quest to brutally stop citizens from petitioning an independent commission can only be testimony to the incestuous relationship that exists between the two. Otherwise why is government getting worked up on a petition that has nothing to do with it?” said Tsvangirai in a statement.
He warned the police against provoking citizens trying to exercise their constitutional rights.
“This regime that is now in its sunset hour should stand warned that citizens are like a spring. The more they are suppressed, the greater the rebound!” he said. Nehanda Radio