Zimbabwe Police yesterday predictably and viciously crushed an MDC-T youth demonstration in Harare, where scores of opposition supporters took to the streets to protest against the manner in which the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) is preparing for the 2018 general elections.
Armed with water cannons, batons and tear smoke, police officers were perched at strategic positions across the city since early yesterday morning waiting to pounce on the protesters, who had vowed to demonstrate with or without the law enforcement agents’ authority.
By mid-morning, placard-waving demonstrators led by MDC-T youth assembly chairman, Happymore Chidziva and secretary-general, Lovemore Chinoputsa started marching from the party’s headquarters going north.
The protesters were calling on Zec to implement their desired reforms, which, among them, include the scrapping of the proof of residence requirement for one to register as a voter.
The demonstrators were quickly intercepted by the armed police, who lashed out indiscriminately, attacking onlookers in the process and forcing both protesters and passers-by to flee in all directions, with the cops in pursuit.
But the protesters would not disperse without fighting back, pelting the police officers with stones in retaliation, resulting in some running battles that forced nearby shops, including Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko’s Choppies Supermarket, to close.
Although the MDC-T youth built pockets of resistance and managed to stage other sporadic protests, they were easily overrun by the police, who had little challenges in disbursing them using highly-concentrated tear smoke.
Journalists covering the protest were also caught up in the melee.
Chidziva claimed six people were arrested and taken to Harare Central Police Station.
He, however, said they would not tire and would return to the streets soon to pressure the electoral management body until it acquiesced to their demands for reforming the electoral system.
“As the youth of Zimbabwe, we are geared to fight on and we are not going to be threatened by the State at any moment,” Chidziva said.
“The time when they could threaten us with water cannons is gone and today marks the (beginning of an) era of defiance.
“From today, I don’t see any reason to keep applying to (the) police or even notifying them about our demonstrations because they always come down hard on us. Police must always be neutral and we are always going to fight until we get meaningful reforms.
“We will never tire in upholding the principles of the liberation struggle, which President Robert Mugabe is now denying us.”
Following the clashes, Chinoputsa had no kind words for the police, calling for the immediate resignation of police boss, Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri.
“The MDC-T youth assembly condemns the excesses of the police today, where heavily armed police officers brutally crushed our peaceful protest and in the process harassed journalists covering our demonstration,” he said.
“It is sad to note that under the watch of Chihuri, the ZRP (Zimbabwe Republic Police) has continued to act unprofessionally by continuously harassing citizens to the levels that would make even the notorious Nazi Special Forces green with envy.
“It is sad that the same ruthless tactics used by a racist (Ian) Smith regime are being used by our own black government 37 years after independence.”
In a statement yesterday, ZimRights condemned the police action.
“The actions of the police are disturbing insofar as they specifically intend to limit the human rights of the protesters and generally affect the freedom and security of people, who were caught up in the harmful teargas randomly used in public places.”
Meanwhile, political parties met Zec chairperson, Rita Makarau yesterday to urge the commission to accept their desired reforms.
Since last year, opposition parties under the banner of the National Electoral Reform Agenda have been taking to the streets to push for electoral reforms, but Zec last week said it would not be moved by street protests.