HARARE – Angry opposition parties have vowed to defy “with all we have” the government’s new ban on demonstrations in Harare, setting the stage for more bloody encounters between panicking authorities and fed up citizens who are agitating for change in the country.
At the same time, the 18 opposition parties who are coalescing under the banner of the National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera) told the Daily News yesterday that they would also take police to court to fight the ban.
The mounting political crisis has seen analysts expressing growing fears that Zimbabwe could be hurtling towards an orgy of violence and complete implosion, as the new police ban on demonstrations comes hardly a week after an earlier decree was dismissed as unconstitutional by the High Court.
The new protests ban in the capital, for a month, is also being effected a few days before opposition parties are to hold mega demos in all of the country’s 210 constituencies, and as miffed civil servants — whose bonuses have been frozen in new fiscal measures announced last week, including the retrenchment of tens of thousands of government workers — are mulling staging mega protests of their own against the State.
In their new prohibition order, police turned to the repressive Public Order and Security Act (Posa), to ban protests between September 16 and October 15. This after they had failed in their earlier attempt when they used a Statutory Instrument to foil mass actions.
“The purported ban by the police is null and void ab initio (from the beginning). It’s clothed with neither legal force nor constitutional authority. We will simply ignore that illegal ban and continue with our peaceful demonstrations.
“It’s not about the benevolence of the police to allow us to exercise our constitutional right to hold peaceful demonstrations, the police should never, ever be permitted to hold the people to ransom,” MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said.
“(President Robert) Mugabe is yesterday’s man. He is a cornered and worried man. The people of Zimbabwe will continue to peacefully demonstrate for his ouster. With him at the helm, Zimbabwe is doomed.
“We are heading towards the endgame. Any student of political science and of history will tell you that Mugabe’s days in office are numbered. The whole political edifice that he has created around himself is collapsing like a deck of cards. The centre can no longer hold,” Gutu added.
When the High Court ruled that Statutory Instrument 101A — which authorities had used to ban demonstrations for two weeks in Harare — was unconstitutional, this was hailed as a significant development, coming days after Mugabe had made direct threats against the judiciary.
Subsequently, Mugabe also delivered another chilling warning to pro-democracy activists and opposition parties while addressing his party’s central committee in Harare, with the increasingly frail nonagenarian saying he would not fold his hands and allow protests to continue in the country, even as such mass action is allowed under the new Constitution.
“They are bragging that they want to take their violent demonstrations to rural areas but again I say let them be warned that when we move against them they should not cry foul saying there is no more democracy in the country.
“Some of them (opposition leaders) have never been held in cells eating very little food in a filthy place before they are even tried in court. If they have ears to hear, let them hear.
“Let the opposition parties and all those angling for chaos and mayhem be warned that our patience has run out. Government will take very strong measures against any political party, organisation or individuals who perpetrate violent demonstrations,” Mugabe thundered then.
Yesterday, the 18 opposition parties coalescing under Nera said they would take police to court, while re-iterating that they would also ignore the latest ban.
“We will take them to court because they have no powers to stop us, it will be prudent to approach the courts and ask what is the point of living in Zimbabwe where they is no respect for the rule of law?.
“There is an unholy alliance between police and Zanu PF. We will demonstrate tichizorohwa hedu (even if we are beaten) so as to expose those behind the beatings. It is important that the world sees that there is no longer peace in the country and we would like the world to know that the police have become a law unto themselves.
“Our demands for electoral reforms will not stop, the police know that our methods are both effective and constitutional, but now they want to stifle that. The police should know that we are fighting for them as well and that everyone will benefit from our demonstrations,” Nera spokesperson, Didymus Mutasa, who once served as State Security minister told the Daily News.
Human Rights Watch senior researcher for Africa Dewa Mavhinga, who is also a lawyer, said Mugabe was now so desperate that he would rather have the police defy the courts.
“The new police ban is in defiance of the courts which ruled the earlier ban illegal and unconstitutional. Organisers of the protests have no obligation to obey an illegal police order. Instead, they should approach the courts to have this new order set aside.
“Protesters must know that in Zanu PF they are dealing with an insensitive and oppressive regime that only responds to a demonstration of people power so they must escalate their protests until the government agrees to take their grievances seriously,” Mavhinga said.
“Trying to appease a repressive regime will not work. Zimbabweans must continue to demand justice and accountability and that Mugabe’s government respects their fundamental rights.
“Political parties and pro-democracy groups have many options available to them to peacefully express themselves, including holding demonstrations in suburbs around Harare, or in other cities across the country,” he added.
Constitutional law expert and University of Kent lecturer, Alex Magaisa, described the police’s latest move as “the same old wine in a new bottle”.
“The new order is … issued as a subsidiary legislation. It must therefore conform to the terms of section 134 (b) of the Constitution. Since it seeks to do exactly what its immediate predecessor SI 101a/2016 sought to do, the new ban carries the same fatal defects which led the judge to declare SI 101a/2016 invalid.
“It is impossible to see how the new order can survive where SI 101a/2016 failed. The ZRP have defied the ruling of the High Court by reproducing a declared illegality,” Magaisa said.
Mugabe, 92 — the only leader Zimbabweans have known since the country gained its independence from Britain in April 1980 — is facing the biggest challenge to his long rule.
Miffed civil servants who are set to meet the government in a crunch get-together over its decision to retrench workers and freeze bonuses are threatening to go on strike soon, to protest the new measures.
Presenting his mid-term fiscal policy statement last week, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa scrapped bonuses for all government workers as part of a raft of measures.
The emergency measures were announced as civil service salaries and bonuses have been gobbling virtually the whole national budget, worsening the country’s deepening liquidity and cash shortages.
But civil servants leaders, including vocal teachers’ lobby groups, said the government had acted illegally when it announced the measures.
Zimbabwe is currently deep in the throes of a debilitating economic crisis which has given rise to waves of protests and riots by ordinary citizens who blame public sector corruption and the government’s policies for the current rot. -Daily News