HARARE – Jittery authorities yesterday deployed heavily-armed police on all of Harare’s major roads — mounting multiple roadblocks to thwart the mega demonstration that had been planned by the country’s opposition.
As a result, the opposition parties coalescing under the banner of the National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera) were forced to turn their demo into a rally only — at the open space now commonly referred to as Freedom Square, next to Rainbow Towers Hotel.
As early as six in the morning, hundreds of riot police and other armed details were deployed around the tense capital city — stopping and searching all vehicles leading into Harare’s Central Business District(CBD), causing traffic chaos during the morning rush hour.
Nera officials said they were both angry and surprised by the huge police turnout, as the parties had held what they saw as a successful meeting with security commanders on Monday, where they were cleared to hold their demo with stringent conditions.
But in their formal letter to Nera, on the eve of yesterday’s planned march, police had however, been emphatic that the opposition should not march, but rather just gather at Freedom Square.
The police also said only a maximum of 10 people would be allowed to take the opposition’s petition to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec).
Although police did not disrupt yesterday’s rally, as attendees listened attentively to an address by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, the tension in the air was palpable.
Tsvangirai said the Nera gathering had proved that opposition parties were able to coalesce against a common enemy.
“Zanu PF’s governance must come to an end. It’s enough. Today they said we must gather here like vabvandiripo (second class citizens). We have been victims of this system for a very long time . . . as we go towards the watershed 2018 elections, we say enough is enough.
“Zec (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) . . . whatever limitation they have, they have to accept that they need to act like a referee. They must not act like those referees who throw the whistle and join the other team. We are not going to accept that,” Tsvangirai told the gathering.
People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leader, Tendai Biti, also warned President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF that their days in office were numbered.
“This is a message to Zanu PF, Mugabe, his wife, children, his rats and mice that we are coming for you. We are sending a message that we can work together and that we will not allow any more nonsense next year.
“Zec has failed to demonstrate its independence but this country cannot have a contested election every time . . . Zanu PF fears the union of Zimbabweans,” he said.
“I know that in 2008 we defeated them, but they defend power at all cost but this time they have to realise that their defence of the power project will not sustain.
“Our enemy is a State that organises against the people. Zanu PF is undermining the rights of Zimbabweans … Today we are gathered here, but next time we are going to be in the streets,” Biti added.
Nera, led by its legal secretary Douglas Mwonzora delivered their petition at the Zec offices without major incident, as police again kept their distance.
“We successfully delivered our petition but unfortunately the Zec chairperson (Rita Makarau) was not in the office. So, we handed it to the chief executive officer (Constance Chigwamba) and she acknowledged receipt,” Mwonzora said afterwards.
“We have said if the commission can’t carry out its mandate impartially, then they should be disbanded so that either Sadc or the United Nations run the elections as happened in 1980,” 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 the stone-broke government will 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.