HARARE – The coming few days promise to be very tense starting tomorrow when the country’s angry opposition holds a massive demonstration in Harare, after they were given the go-ahead by edgy security commanders yesterday.
And on Thursday, disaffected war veterans will also gather in the capital for their long-planned indaba which was earlier banned by panicking authorities.
This comes as there are renewed fears by the country’s jittery government that the spirit of resistance which swept across Zimbabwe last year is once again gathering steam ahead of next year’s make-or-break national polls.
To underscore the fact that the government is worried by tomorrow’s protests, the much-feared Joint Operations Command (JOC) — a security think tank comprising military, police, prisons and Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) bosses — first demanded to meet with the opposition and then allowed the parties to go ahead with their demo under strict conditions.
Douglas Mwonzora, the secretary general of the National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera), a group of 18 opposition parties agitating for electoral reforms ahead of next year’s elections, confirmed to the Daily News last night that they had been cleared to hold their demo, but under stringent conditions.
The security commanders will reveal the exact conditions in a letter of clearance that will come via the police, and to be delivered to Nera today.
“We had a fruitful meeting with JOC, who agreed that the demonstration should go ahead. The police said we should pick up the letter tomorrow.
“According to JOC, the letter is going to have conditions on how we are going to hold the demonstrations.
“We argued our case successfully. They were talking about our previous Nera demonstration, but we told them that the police started the violence by beating people.
“Basically they told us they were not banning the demonstration but that they are worried with what happened at our previous demo,” Mwonzora told the Daily News.
“If they give us unrealistic conditions we will go to court. But we do not expect the police to do that. The demonstration is going ahead.
“What I want to assure people is that the demonstration is going to be peaceful. People are going to show their anger against Zec peacefully,” he added.
Zimbabwe’s quest to acquire biometric voter registration (BVR) kits has caused a huge storm among opposition parties who view the government’s involvement in the purchase of the equipment as problematic.
The controversy erupted into the open recently following the government’s sudden decision to sideline the UNDP from assisting in the procurement of the kits, with unanswered questions being raised about how and where President Robert Mugabe’s stone-broke administration was able to secure funding for this, to the staggering tune of $17 million.
The opposition has alleged that the government is hijacking the process to rig next year’s eagerly-anticipated national elections.
“It was all along agreed that the procurement of the BVR kits would be done by Zec through the UNDP. Consequently, a joint advertisement was flighted by the UNDP and Zec calling upon all potential suppliers of the kits to place their bids.
“These bids were opened at the UNDP offices in Copenhagen and this was witnessed by both Zec and political parties. It was further agreed that once the winner of the tender was declared, political parties would second their technical experts to inspect these kits.
“But suddenly, the government announced that it was taking over the BVR kits procurement process. Among other things, this means that the government will now select the supplier of these kits.
“Crucially, political parties and other key stakeholders will thus not be able to monitor the process,” Mwonzora pointed out at the weekend.
This comes as opposition parties are still smarting from the electoral controversies of the 2013 election, when an Israeli company, Nikuv, allegedly manipulated the vote in favour of Zanu PF.
“Nera totally rejects this move because it is designed to enable the government to manipulate the procurement process. That way the government will also manipulate the 2018 election process.
“In other words, this move marks the beginning of the rigging of the 2018 elections … To this end, Nera is organising nationwide demonstrations to show the people’s outrage at this political abomination. All Zimbabweans, irrespective of their political affiliation, are called to action,” Mwonzora said.
He also said while Nera would attend the planned meeting today with Zec, the outcome of the meeting would not have a bearing on tomorrow’s mass action.
Nera alleges that Zec called the meeting in a bid to dissuade them from going ahead with the protests.
“Whatever Zec is going to say is not going to stop the demonstration because we know that Zec is being controlled by the security apparatus. We know that Zanu PF have started the rigging of the 2018 elections.
“Zimbabweans have the right to demonstrate, and we are saying people should come in their numbers so that we show the ruling party that we are tired of it all, and that we are not going to allow another rigged election,” the defiant Mwonzora told the Daily News.
Analysts say the Nera protests could herald the beginning of a new season of protests, following the relative calm that has prevailed in the country over the past few months, after the panicking government used brute force to crush rolling protests last year.
On Thursday, a day after the Nera demonstration, disaffected war veterans who have been feuding with Mugabe since last year, will have their own indaba where they are expected to discuss the welfare of their members, as well as the ruling Zanu PF’s deadly tribal, factional and succession wars.
Their meeting follows last week’s High Court ruling which quashed an earlier decision by the police to bar them from holding the indaba.
Yesterday, the spokesperson of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA), Douglas Mahiya, said they had since lost respect for the police, further alleging that high-ranking police officers were taking instructions “from somewhere to frustrate us”.
“The war veterans had lots of respect for the police. It is for this reason that we submitted our application to hold that indaba. Because of our respect we decided to postpone the meeting, but the police replied at the last minute the same day we were supposed to hold our meeting.
“We were surprised by the action of the police when they blocked our gathering. But through Posa (Public Order Security Act), we are only required to notify them. We don’t know why they did that and who is involved in these issues.
“The police wanted to know what we are going to discuss, but they are not required to know that by the law. We had followed the right procedures for us to hold this meeting. On the day of the indaba we expect that the police are going to respect the law,” Mahiya said.
War veterans have been brawling with Mugabe and Zanu PF ever since they served the nonagenarian with divorce papers, after they released a damning communiqué against him mid last year.
The vets are pressing Mugabe to name a successor and ditch a faction rabidly opposed to his deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, from succeeding the nonagenarian.
Analysts also say the country’s worsening cash shortages, which almost caused riots by angry tobacco farmers last week, are likely to fuel further tensions from this week onward.
Zimbabwe is in the grip of a debilitating economic crisis which has seen the government failing to pay its workers on time.