HARARE on Wednesday degenerated into a warzone barely three days after President Emmerson Mnangagwa told the world that one of his major successes since taking over was giving “the people of Zimbabwe a voice and that criticism of government was no longer taboo.”
Police today brutally dispersed bystanders and MDC members who were near Harvest House for the party’s Hope of the Nation Address that was set to be addressed by opposition leader Nelson Chamisa.
Police had earlier banned planned protests by the opposition and patrolled the streets of the capital early morning, brandishing their baton sticks to effect what seemed like a premeditated assault.
“President Mnangagwa says Zimbabwe is Open for Business but police have disrupted business in a bid to try and stop people from hearing a speech from Nelson Chamisa. This doesn’t make sense,” one Valentine Miller bemoaned.
A 27-year-old woman, who was caught up in the mayhem, told Zim Morning Post that she had been going about her business before she was assaulted: “I was going to see my relatives when all of a sudden I was beaten by baton sticks.”
Writing an Op-Ed on cnbcafrica on November 17, titled This is how Zimbabwe has changed since I became president, Mnangagwa said soon after taking over “I immediately moved to give the people their voices back, opening new channels of communication between the people and their representatives.
“Criticism of the government and the presidency would no longer be taboo but welcomed, even encouraged. I answered tough questions on my Facebook page, as I promised to be a listening president,” Mnangagwa wrote.
The President said he had opened up political space and was on the path to ensure the right to freedom of expression.
“Just last week, we removed the much maligned Public Order and Security Act, a remnant of the old Zimbabwe that limited the right to protest, and replaced it with a new Maintenance of Peace and Order Bill, devised with input from civil society and our friends around the world,” Mnangagwa wrote.
However, chaotic scenes that saw many protesters and bystanders being beaten with scores left injured portrayed a different picture.
The clashes come as South Africa’s International Relations and Co-operation Minister Naledi Pandor has warned that resolving Zimbabwe’s socio-economic crisis will remain unresolved if political hostility remains the priority “of parties in that country.”