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Zimbabwe tense as crisis deepens

by Staff reporter
18 Sep 2016 at 15:58hrs | Views

The government's savage clampdown against dissenting voices got even heavier this weekend, with panicking authorities deploying tens of thousands of police and other law enforcement agents around the country in their desperate bid to thwart planned protests by fed up citizens against Zimbabwe's deepening rot.

At the same time, opposition parties told the Daily News on Sunday yesterday that the country had reached a "point of no return" politically - adding that the only way that President Robert Mugabe and his warring ruling Zanu-PF could hope to remain in power was through the ratcheting up of their repression.

Government insiders also told the newspaper that the country's security forces had been put on high alert and deployed around the country in large numbers, as the embattled regime moved to foil opposition parties coalescing under the banner of the National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera), which had planned protests in all the country's 210 constituencies, to press for much-needed electoral reforms ahead of the watershed 2018 national elections.

"We are now in very dangerous territory. We are entering a very sad, terrible repressive stage," People's Democratic Party (PDP) leader, Tendai Biti, said - adding that the mistake that Zimbabweans have made is to assume that "Zanu is normal, rational and predictable. They are not".

Former State Security minister and Nera convener, Didymus Mutasa, said they would hold an emergency meeting in the wake of the heightened crackdown by authorities, despite the fact that protests were not banned outside central Harare.

"We are going to sit down and map the way forward as Nera after what happened today (yesterday). We have observed that the police have banned all the demonstrations all over the country. There is an unjustifiable heavy presence of police across the country.

"However, I must emphasise that we are not afraid of police brutality. It was done to Mugabe and other Zimbabweans by the British and we are surprised that he is not ashamed by what he is doing to us now," Mutasa told the Daily News On Sunday.

The ruthless clampdown on citizens by the jittery authorities began on Friday when Harare nightclub revellers were randomly and severely assaulted, including in the high density suburb of Kuwadzana where soldiers bludgeoned patrons who were just having a good time.

It was also reported yesterday that there had been several arrests of opposition political leaders across the country, as well as more cases of assaults and harassment by law enforcement agents.

Contacted for comment, national police spokesperson Charity Charamba referred all questions to her colleague Paul Nyathi, as she was not at work, but his phone went unanswered.

Among the many opposition officials who were arrested yesterday were MDC Manicaland provincial spokesperson Trevor Saruwaka, who was allegedly nabbed in Mutare for the absurd crime of draping the Zimbabwe flag around his body.

The Daily News on Sunday's correspondent in Mutare reported that the eastern border city was tense, with a heavy presence of riot police present to break the planned Nera demonstration in the town's central business district.

In Chipinge, the town was placed under virtual lockdown as hundreds of mad police officers indiscriminately assaulted people, including children and the elderly, who were going about their daily chores.

MDC deputy treasurer, Chalton Hwende, said in Mashonaland East riot police had raided the party's provincial offices, as well as the home of its district chairperson.

"All his clothes and phones were confiscated. In Maramba-PFungwe, a black truck is making rounds at the homestead of the MDC's provincial spokesperson. In Mudzi, the MDC chairman slept in the bush last night (Friday) after unidentified people came looking for him and threatened his family," he said.

Hwende added that in Mkoba, Gweru, the army and police had harassed people who were intending to march in the city.

But the MDC spokesperson, Obert Gutu, vowed that the opposition would continue to fight for change in the country.

"Mugabe is on his way out of power and he knows it. Even if he has unleashed the full might of his securocrats against the people, the reality on the ground is that Zimbabwe has now reached a tipping point.

"The Zanu-PF regime is unable to contain the growing civil unrest. The national economy is comatose and without an immediate bail-out package coming, the wheels of the national economy are coming off," Gutu told the Daily News On Sunday.

Mugabe, the only leader Zimbabweans have known since the country gained its independence from Britain in April 1980, is facing the biggest challenge to his 36-year rule.

Angry Zimbabweans, reeling from the current economic meltdown which they blame on him, have been holding endless demonstrations since the economy hit turbulence in early June.

Meanwhile, pro-democracy groups said they would ramp up pressure against the nonagenarian during his visit to New York this week, where he will be attending the annual United Nations meeting with other world leaders.

"Unfortunately, while the regime can outlaw protests at home they have no power to do so abroad. While there have been consistent protests in places where there is huge concentration of Zimbabweans like South Africa and London, Mugabe's errant rule has seldom been protested at a grand stage like the UN General assembly.

"So this week marks a definitive change of gear from the past, as protests against Mugabe's regime go truly global in a space where he can neither thwart nor intimidate people," said McDonald Lewanika, an expert in politics and governance.

Economic experts also told the Daily News On Sunday that tensions would remain high in the country, as long as the dire economy did not improve.

Citing the pending introduction of bond notes and Mugabe's reversal of key cost-cutting measures that were announced by Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, the analysts also said Zimbabweans should not expect the country's economic problems to go away any time soon.

At the same time, political analysts warned that the introduction of the surrogate currency could trigger more citizen unrest in the country.

Mugabe's stone-broke and ever bumbling government reversed Chinamasa's  austerity measures which included suspending paying civil servants bonuses, taxing allowances, cutting foreign trips and retrenching 25 000 workers.

Civil servants, despite seeing Mugabe trying to curry favour with them by humiliating Chinamsa last week, are demanding that he communicates his reversal to them in writing.

"If they do not put it in writing then everything that Chinamasa said will be effected and we will have no basis to fight because there is no proof," said Apex council spokesperson, George Mushipe.

Source - dailynews