By Professor Matodzi
Harare, June 28, 2016 – ZIMBABWEAN authorities have lampooned some anti-government protesters and labelled them hooligans in an indication that President Robert Mugabe’s administration is increasingly unsettled by the unwavering picketers.
Several groups of Zimbabweans have in recent weeks been staging anti-government protests demanding that President Mugabe’s administration steps down for authoring the current political and economic catastrophe for the troubled southern African country.
On Friday and Sunday, some of the protesters staged a demonstration in Harare against the continued stay in a luxury hotel by Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko as extravagant at a time when the government was failing to remunerate civil servants.
On Monday, some youths were briefly stopped and detained by police officers as they sought to petition the government over leadership failure in the country.
In a bid to manage the damage to the government’s tattered reputation, authorities on Monday described some of the demonstrators who have been picketing in central Harare as hooligans and criminals.
The human rights activists, who include Patson Dzamara, a brother to the missing pro-democracy activist Itai Dzamara, have been staging peaceful protests in Africa Unity Square demanding that the government account for the whereabouts of the freelance journalist and step down for mismanaging the once prosperous southern African country.
In court, lawyers from the Attorney General’s Office who represented Home Affairs Minister Ignatius Chombo, Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri and Chief Superintendent Newbert Saunyama, the Officer Commanding ZRP Harare Province who were dragged to court by the protesters calling themselves Occupy Movement of Zimbabwe (OMZ) for interfering with their civil disobedience programme, on Monday, accused the demonstrators of being hooligans bent committing crimes.
“The respondents, represented by two ill-prepared gentlemen from the Attorney-General’s office, was predictably disingenuous, arguing the matter was not urgent, and holding up proceedings with the argument that the activists did not follow correct procedure of notifying the police, the assumption there being that this somehow justifies the violation of citizens’ rights by the police. Their papers also referred to the occupiers as criminals and hooligans masquerading as human rights activists,” reads part of a statement issued by OMZ.
“The state seems to believe that both POSA (Public Order and Security Act) and the police are above the supreme law,” OMZ added.
Dzamara and four other pro-democracy activists namely Linda Masarira, Tatenda Mombeyarara, Pride Mkono and Dirk Frey last week filed an urgent chamber application in the High Court seeking an order barring ZRP officers from unlawfully interfering with their occupation of Africa Unity Square, which is aimed at expressing their displeasure in the mismanagement of the country’s political and economic affairs.
In the application filed Thursday by Kudzayi Kadzere and Marufu Mandevere, who are members of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, the five activists listed Chihuri, Saunyama, and Chombo as respondents.
Dzamara, Masarira, Mombeyarara, Mkono and Frey have in recent weeks been occupying Africa Unity Square in central Harare under a peaceful protest against the deteriorating socio-economic conditions in Zimbabwe in particular rampant state corruption, enforced disappearances, stifling of freedom of expression as well as cash shortages and unemployment and want their grievances to be addressed by the State.
However, on 20 June, they were severely assaulted by ZRP officers and forced to disperse from the popular protest centre while some of the activists sustained injuries and had to be hospitalised.
The activists, who charge that they were threatened with continuing abuse by police officers should they attempt again in future to peacefully occupy Africa Unity Square, argue that the unlawful assault and dispersal amounted to a violation of their constitutional rights including their right to personal security and freedom from violence and they would like to continue with their civil disobedience programme imminently without interference from the police.
On Monday, High Court Judge Justice Amy Tsanga, who presided over the hearing of the urgent chamber application reserved ruling on the preliminary point of urgency of the matter after Tymon Tabana of the Attorney General’s Office, who represented some of the respondents, argued that the matter deserved not to be heard on an urgent basis.
Tabana argued that the matter must not be heard on an urgent basis because the activists had not notified the ZRP of their gathering in Africa Unity Square. However, Kadzere and Mandevere opposed Tabana’s submission and insisted that the matter be heard on an urgent basis as they were challenging the unlawful assault and dispersal of their clients from occupying Africa Unity Square.
Once regarded as the bread basket of southern Africa, Zimbabwe is currently grappling with one of its worst economic crisis marked by a biting cash crisis, government failure to remunerate its workers and rising poverty.
Critics blame President Mugabe for presiding over the collapse of the once prosperous country. However, the ZANU PF leader denies the accusation and blames western governments for imposing sanctions on his country and working with opposition political parties to oust him from power after he repossessed white owned commercial farmers.