HARARE – Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has warned that nobody can stop him from leading mass demonstrations against President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF’s misrule, saying the MDC has a constitutional right to congregate at any time and place whenever it so wishes.
Addressing a media conference at his party’s Harvest House headquarters in Harare yesterday, Tsvangirai rejected with contempt last week’s claims by police that the MDC’s mass actions constituted a threat to national security.
“The MDC is not a threat to national stability. So, there should be no threat from any quarter, from any institution, about crushing the people’s will to express themselves as has been said by the spokesperson for the police,” the former prime minister in the government of national unity said.
“I want to warn that such an action will be unconstitutional and as far as we are concerned, we are not going to abide by unconstitutional action by the police.
“We will abide by what the courts say and the same applies to national institutions like the army.
“We believe in the army protecting the people of Zimbabwe and not to threatening the democratic right of Zimbabweans to organise themselves, to express themselves,” he added.
His sharp comments follow threats by police to ban future demonstrations by the MDC, on the pretext that last week’s protest had allegedly degenerated into chaos after Tsvangirai’s supporters were said by authorities to have attacked a security guard at Choppies Supermarket — a grocery chain associated with one of Mugabe’s vice presidents, Phelekezela Mphoko.
Police also unsuccessfully attempted to stop the MDC’s protest march last week, with the High Court later ruling that the demo should proceed and that the State pays the opposition party’s legal costs.
Afterwards, police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba claimed that MDC supporters had spawned chaos in the capital’s central business district, warned that this could mean that future such demos could be banned to protect life and property.
“They (MDC supporters) blocked traffic for about an hour and also disturbed some Harare City Council officials who were conducting their work . . . before they attacked the (Choppies) security guard,” Charamba claimed, threatening to challenge court orders in future if demos resulted in violence and the destruction of property.
But many observers have contradicted the police’s version of events, noting emphatically that last week’s massive protest march had been both successful and peaceful.
Tsvangirai said yesterday that an issue that needed serious and urgent consideration by law enforcement was constitutionalism, as well as application of the rule of law.
“If I were in government, when people express themselves, I would take heed of that expression and deal with the issues that they are raising rather than threaten them through unconstitutional means.
“The other day we had the commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (General Constantine) Chiwenga publicly stating that they came from Zanu PF and that they are stakeholders of that political party, itself a contravention of the Constitution,” he said — referring to a recent controversial interview that the country’s top securocrat granted to lapdog State media.
The ZDF commander claimed in his interview that there were unspecified “machinations” by what he referred to as “Zimbabwe’s enemies” to destablise the country — allegedly using local elements.
Chiwenga also claimed that the same plots had been tried during the liberation struggle but failed, citing the Nhari and Vashandi rebellions — describing the security forces as the country’s national insurance policy that guaranteed peace all the time.
He further claimed that the ZDF were “stockholders” of Zimbabwe, and not just stakeholders — in a comment that solicited widespread condemnation, including from within Zanu PF.
Tsvangirai reiterated yesterday that the MDC’s demonstrations were an expression of the people’s growing frustration and disillusionment with their worsening lot, adding that he was also confident that he would win the 2018 elections.
“We have always won elections, but the critical issue is not about winning elections, it is about winning power. You all know that in 2008 we won the election and we have been winning all elections.
“The problem has been the absence of a mechanism to transient from an entrenched dictatorship to a democratic dispensation. That has been the issue. If we run a free and fair election, we have no doubt that we will win the election again as we have won before.
“So, we are very confident as we have always been. The crisis we face in the country is the crisis of legitimacy arising out of the refusal to observe the will of the people and Zanu PF’s tendency to subvert that will. That is the crisis we face in the country,” the MDC leader said.
He said his party’s demonstrations were part of the process towards democratic change, adding that such transition would not happen overnight.
“When the MDC does nothing, it is condemned and when it does something we are also condemned. So, what do you want us to do? … and please, it’s very easy to condemn,” he said in apparent reference to the criticism of the party’s demos that has come from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
PDP deputy secretary-general Tongai Matutu claimed last week that Tsvangirai was allegedly abusing his large political following, but failing to provide much-needed answers to the country’s problems.
“If you’re going to call for Mugabe to go, will he go after the march or after any other political gathering?” Matutu asked rhetorically, in comments that analysts said were “very strange” coming from an opposition party.
Tsvangirai said: “We are in a struggle. A struggle involves a number of actions we may have to undertake, and so it’s not a crime at all that the MDC decides to take certain actions as a way of applying pressure”.
He also sought to repel moves by Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere to dissolve the elected council for the City of Harare, and replace it with a “commission”.
“In view of the minister’s threats to the council in Harare, the MDC is mounting an urgent application to the High Court for an interdict to stop the minister’s action and protect the elected council from his predatory actions,” Tsvangirai said.
The MDC leader also appealed to Mugabe to rein in his ministers and ensure that they always upheld the law of the land.
“The MDC is sick and tired of Zanu PF leaders who consistently brush the new Constitution aside as just a piece of paper and continue to act as if the country does not have a new Constitution.
“The basis of all progress and stability is founded on the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and adherence to the precepts of the new Constitution.
“No State can operate effectively without adherence to such principles to build confidence, and Zimbabwe is critically in need of this issue,” Tsvangirai said.