Nera threatens to defy demo ban

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HARARE – Zimbabwean opposition parties and street protest movements yesterday vowed to demonstrate in Harare’s Central Business District (CBD) despite a police ban.


Yesterday’s meeting of a coalition of opposition parties — collectively known as the National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera) — including all major opposition groupings and protest movements, including the various MDC formations headed by Morgan Tsvangirai and Welshman Ncube, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) headed by former finance minister Tendai Biti as well as former Vice President Joice Mujuru’s  National People’s Party, had been restricted to Freedom Square.


Nera officials were told last Friday by the Joint Operations Command (JOC) — a security think tank comprising military, police, prisons and Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) bosses — that the Nera feedback rally could go ahead but only at Freedom Square as there was a meeting of ministers of State Security taking place at Meikles Hotel on the same day.


Thousands gathered at Freedom Square yesterday to get feedback from the March 22 demonstration.


Nera has said the United Nations, African Union and the Southern African Development Community “must immediately establish an independent, tripartite election management body to take over the full functions of Zec.”


But Zanu PF legal secretary and Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa has said Zec reserved the constitutional right to run elections in Zimbabwe.


The opposition parties also said Mugabe’s government should reverse its decision to take over the purchase of biometric voter registration(BVR) kits from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).


Riot police armed with truncheons and water cannons patrolled the CBD yesterday to prevent the protest march into the city.


The parties had planned to update their supporters on Zec’s response at Africa Unity Square but police ordered them to change the venue of their feedback rally to Freedom Square.


Addressing the crowd gathered at the Freedom Square, Nera legal representative Douglas Mwonzora accused the police of applying the law selectively.


“We have tried to show them that we can be reasonable by obeying them but we cannot do that anymore because they are allowing Zanu PF to demonstrate in the CBD, albeit against itself while they ban us, so we are not going to respect them anymore,” Mwonzora said.


“If they allow Zanu PF, why should we be banned? We know that they are going to crack down on the leadership but we are not scared and we are not going to listen to them. By next week we will have fixed the dates for our protests.


“We will toyi-toyi in the streets; we will meet at Africa Unity Square which we now call Itai Dzamara Square because it is also our city, not Zanu PF’s. If they can allow the million man march, then they must also allow us to exercise our constitutional right to demonstrate.”


Mwonzora said Zec had responded to their petition handed over by a handful of Nera officials to the electoral commission offices on March 22.


“Zec wrote us two letters in response to our petition advising us that they now want to talk to us and that they will be procuring the (BVR) kits themselves but we have since said, in our eyes, Zec and Zanu PF are synonymous because in their letters, they do not address issues of vote-buying through partisan food distribution, violence, equal access to the public media by parties and the role paled by State security agents and traditional leaders in elections,” the MDC secretary general said.


“We have no problem with government funding the BVR process like the United Nations Development Programme country director said but rather we have problems with government procuring the kits. It’s like asking a Dynamos official to be referee in a match his team is playing,” he added.


Following the March 22, demonstration, the UNDP resident representative Bishow Parajuli announced that the UNDP was happy about the government taking responsibility for the procurement of BVR kits.


Zimbabwe is due to hold its next presidential and parliamentary election by July 2018.  President Robert Mugabe has been endorsed as the ruling party’s presidential candidate.

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