Uniformed soldiers on Friday night emptied Harare’s night clubs and ruthlessly attacked people on the streets after police triggered violent protests in the capital earlier in the day as President Robert Mugabe’s government fought to suppress dissent against his rule.
Zimbabwe’s 18 opposition parties including former vice-president Joice Mujuru’s Zimbabwe People First and MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai had obtained a High Court order barring police from interfering with their intended demonstration.
The parties under the banner of the National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera) and Coalition for Democrats wanted to protest against unfair electoral laws and systems, but were violently blocked by the police; minutes after the High Court had okayed the event.
The situation turned violent and for close to 12 hours, police were engaged in running battles with protestors in the central business district. Th protesters were angered by the police provocation. Some ran amok, looting shops, smashing cars and setting property ablaze.
But as it appeared the police were losing ground, the military took over in the late hours and spent the rest of Friday night patrolling the CBD and surrounding areas such as the Avenues where they attacked people on the streets, including commercial sex workers.
Truckloads of soldiers were seen patrolling the Avenues area and raiding night clubs where revellers were bludgeoned without reason or explanation.
Most revellers fled from the city centre fearing for their lives. Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi was part of a press conference by Home
Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo where the government threatened to unleash terror on protestors last Thursday.
Army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Alphios Makotore yesterday refused to comment when asked about the involvement of the military in patrolling streets, referring all questions to the Zimbabwe Republic Police.
However, police spokesperson, Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba said she was out of town.
Opposition political parties and observers yesterday said they were worried about the involvement of the army, saying it showed how Mugabe, who has realised he was now sitting on a cliff edge was desperate to defend his continued hold on power.
Douglas Mwonzora, MDC-T secretary general who is Nera’s legal affairs head said opposition parties would not be intimidated by the army.
“This shows that the system is in a fix,” Mwonzora said.
“This is the work of a now panicky regime which is afraid of its own shadows.
“This was supposed to be a peaceful protest that was disrupted by the state itself. We won’t be intimidated. We are not fighting the army, we are fighting the system.”
Nera has called for another protest next Friday, which the union’s convenor Didymus Mutasa said would be of a greater magnitude.
ZimPF spokesperson, Jealousy Mawarire said deployment of soldiers to do crowd management was unconstitutional as soldiers were not trained for such tasks.
“Reports that the army has been deployed in the streets of Harare is in fact a declaration of a state of emergency,” he said.
“In fact there is already a curfew in Harare because residents are being forced out of the city centre at particular times by people alleging to be members of the army.
This will not intimidate or cow us from continuing with the planned Nera demonstration on Friday.
“No amount of intimidation will break the resolve by Zimbabweans to change the socio-economic and political situation obtaining in the country.”
Zanu PF aligned business organisation yesterday condemned violence, describing the actions by Nera as barbaric.
Political analyst Eldred Masunungure said Mugabe was clearly standing on weak ground following Friday’s protests and other demonstrations which have rocked the country in the past few months.
Masunungure said the situation was made worse by his diminishing stamina both physically and mentally, which the protestors were now aware of, to deal with the ever increasing voices of dissent.
He said Mugabe loathed his power and he foresees him fighting to the end.
“He will continue in power until some of his pillars (particularly the army) which he used to learn on has abandons him. Deploying the military in the evening shows the military still wants to defend its commander in chief,” Masunungure said.
“But to what extend the army will go depend on if Mugabe secures fresh source of funding to pay them on time.
“The army is his remaining trump card, but a few months ago he has failed to pay them. If he fails to find new funds it will mark his waterloo.”
Masunungure said Mugabe was in a precarious position and will likely give in the coming months and not years.
“There is no doubt about that, he is in a fix. Things could go out of hand and the situation could have a multiplier effect. He will decide to deploy the army as his last resort, but that still will be having a domino effect,” he said.
“In my view, it will be the last thing he would want to do to deploy the army against a civil authority.
“However, there are symptoms that he could deploy the army if the situation develops inexorably. He can do anything to extent or defend his power.”
He said this will directly have consequences and attract direct intervention and not “quite diplomacy” from the region, African Union and the international community, especially the west that has already castigated the conduct of the police.
“The Zimbabwean issue could be an agenda when Sadc meets, but I see the AU taking a leading role, extending to the UN,” Masunungure said.
“Remember that pastor Evan Mawarire said he is organising a big demonstration at the UN, with the UN general Assembly coming soon. So Mugabe is in a fix.”
Meanwhile a State media columnist Nathaniel Manheru, who was outed by Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo as Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba, threatened that the government would be ruthless in future.
“The line has been crossed,” wrote yesterday. “From now on wards, it shall be another country.
“This so “caring” world can go hang. We have a country to protect. And govern. After all, we have hit the bottom. We can’t fall.”
Mugabe and his wife Grace have in the past expressed fears of a repeat of the uprisings that toppled North African dictators in what became known as the Arab Spring.