By Tatenda Gando Choto
Harare central business district was turned into a warzone on Wednesday afternoon as the defiant MDC-T youth Assembly embarked on a campaign of civil disobedience and clashed with Riot police backed by water cannons as the party youths demanded electoral reforms which they claim will level the electoral playing field and minimise vote rigging in the much anticipated general election for 2018.
The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) violently dispersed the initially peaceful procession which then degenerated into running battles and street fights with water cannons spraying bluish liquid on the protestors.
The demonstration began in a carnival atmosphere with hundreds of MDC-T youths singing revolutionary songs and shouting slogans against ZEC chairperson Rita Makarau, accusing her of being partisan and calling for the ZEC boss to step down.
The indignant youths held placards with messages such as “ZEC must FALL”, “F**k you Mugabe”, “WE demand electoral reforms”.
The demonstrating youths bravely faced off with menacing armed police in armoured cars and ignored their warnings to disperse. Police then resorted to using teargas triggering fierce clashes, panic and fear as the afternoon crowd rushed in all directions in order to save their own lives.
Police also unleashed water cannons and indiscriminately attacked bystanders. Eye witnesses claimed the water cannons sprayed blue water so that police could easily identify demonstrators from the afternoon crowd during follow ups.
The Harare CBD resembled a ghost town and was virtually deserted by late afternoon after the clashes. A few bank clients braved the teargas and remained in their bank queues as they patiently waited to access the hard-to-get currency.
The Zimbabwean government is well-known for violently suppressing opposition and civil society demonstrations with the 2016 demonstrations by pressure groups and social movements such like #Tajamuka and #This flag being violently quelled and movement leaders persecuted.
Police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba was quoted saying “any attempts to disobey the law will be thwarted ruthlessly”. MDC T Spokesperson Obert Gutu said that the youths were also protesting against the government’s failure to provide the promised 2.2 million jobs.
He said over four million Zimbabweans were starving and in need of food aid but surprisingly access to food relief was being politicised and manipulated to deny opposition supporters.
Political analyst have labelled ZRP a biased institution in favour of the ruling ZANU PF party and long-ruling Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. In May 2017 ZANU PF provinces staged a series of demonstrations against the party’s Political Commissar- Saviour Kasukuwere and were allowed to show their displeasure in whatever way they deemed necessary without police interference. None of the ten demonstrations were crashed in a violent fashion by the police.
MDC-T Secretary general Mr Douglas Mwonzora weighed in by saying “at law, nothing can stop us from demonstrating because initially we had planned to do so last week but the police said it was impossible because of the meeting between Mugabe and the war veterans, but the police have no legal right to stop us now”.