MDC-T leader, Morgan Tsvangirai yesterday brought business in the capital to a standstill as he led thousands of his party supporters in a massive protest march against grinding poverty and corruption.
The demonstrators – buoyed a Wednesday court ruling, which approved the march – defied the heavy police presence and went about singing and chanting songs calling on government to restore economic sanity and generate the promised 2,2 million jobs.
Tsvangirai and his wife, Elizabeth Macheka, led the demonstration from the front, taking their supporters from an open space adjacent to the Harare Magistrates’ Court, now popularly known as Freedom Square, to Africa Unity Square in central Harare.
The placard-waving demonstrators demanded that Zanu PF fulfil its 2013 election promises of creating 2,2 million jobs, as well as explain the whereabouts of the $15 billion diamond proceeds that President Robert Mugabe recently claimed were not accounted for.
“This is the beginning of many demonstrations to come. We in the MDC are not afraid of the Zanu PF regime. I want to tell you young people here, don’t be afraid, the demonstrations we are holding are for your benefit, it’s about your future,” Tsvangirai told cheering supporters.
Harare was crawling with baton-wielding riot police officers, while water cannons were positioned at strategic positions. Hundreds of other security officers barricaded streets leading to Parliament Building, as authorities left nothing to chance.
In some of the songs, the protesters demanded that the 92-year-old leader step down, while in others they extolled Tsvangirai.
In his brief address at Africa Unity Square, Tsvangirai maintained Mugabe and his Zanu PF government were clueless and had no answers to the myriad of problems facing the country.
“Mugabe can’t solve anything, the solution is with us, the people, and we need to take this regime head-on. It’s up to us to decide our future,” Tsvangirai said.
He sarcastically praised the police for not attacking any MDC-T members, as they constantly kept an eagle eye on the protesters from a distance, saying: “This is how civilised police officers behave in a democratic country like Zimbabwe.”
Tsvangirai burst onto the political scene at the turn of the century on the back of rolling demonstrations, then backed by labour umbrella body, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and almost dislodged Mugabe from power in the 2002 and 2008 elections.
But following successive poll losses, albeit disputed, Tsvangirai’s fortunes had been on the wane, exacerbated by two damaging splits in his party inside a decade.
Before the demonstration, there was fear the police would crush it, as they had initially objected to the protest, alleging that they had inadequate manpower to provide security for the protesters, forcing the opposition to seek a High Court interdict against the law enforcement agents.
MDC-T secretary-general, Douglas Mwonzora said yesterday’s demonstration marked the beginning of a series of protests that the opposition plans to hold in a bid to force Mugabe to “self-introspect and step down”.
“We are going to demonstrate again in Bulawayo, Mutare, Gweru, Masvingo and other cities before we cascade to rural areas and growth points. This is not is a demonstration for regime change, but about issues affecting ordinary people in the country. We are demonstrating against poverty, against high unemployment and indeed against corruption,” he said.
Political analyst, Pedzisai Ruhanya said yesterday’s march confirmed that Tsvangirai was regaining his political clout and reconnecting with the party founders.
“It’s the people who formed the MDC, it’s ordinary workers, who were then members of the trade union, but are now in the informal sector, who own the party and that is where Tsvangirai is now going. This is the kind of opposition politics we expect from him – being part of the people, feeling their pain and sharing with them their sorrows,” he said.
But Zanu PF spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo scoffed at the demonstration, describing it as a fundraising gimmick.
“Those are whistles from the grave, we are not moved, and we are implementing ZimAsset and improving the welfare of our people. A meaningful demonstration that we will talk about is a protest against sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by the Americans and their allies at the invitation of the MDC,” he said.
Meanwhile, the 12 MDC-T activists, who were arrested for allegedly participating in an unsanctioned demonstration last November were yesterday removed from remand by a Harare magistrate after the State failed to provide a trial date. They are Joshua Chigwida, Obert Chirape, David Mazibiye, Collin Mhizha, Gardner Propedra, Jesman Mwachande, Stephen Kalima, Kudzai Maponga, Wisdom Anesu Pemhiwa, Gibson Marihoho, Casper Charama and Tongesai Chirisa.
The 12, represented by Harare lawyer, Obey Shava, were arrested on November 12 last year while demonstrating against alleged Zanu PF misrule. The court advised the State to proceed by way of summons should there be need to prosecute them.