Zimbabwe police are maintaining a heavy presence outside opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s Harvest House headquarters in Harare after the former prime minister said he was ready to lead nationwide demonstrations to force President Robert Mugabe’s administration to address Zimbabwe’s economic problems.
The MDC-T national council endorsed the demonstrations although some insiders in the party told the Mail & Guardian this week that there is deep fear of a backlash from the police and army. The officials also said engaging in demonstrations is a major distraction for the party ahead of its elective congress next month.
But Douglas Mwonzora, the MDC-T spokesperson, told the M&G that the party would not be dissuaded from its proposed course of action, saying Zimbabweans had suffered a great deal since the outcome of the July 2013 ballot.
He said preparations to stage the protests were well advanced, cautioning critics against belittling his party’s latest strategy in the streets.
Rights given by Constitution
Mwonzora said it would be folly for the police to turn on citizens “as they are also suffering from Mugabe’s misrule”. He said the party would not seek police clearance as the new Constitution makes provision for the right to demonstrate and present petitions as long as the demonstrations are peaceful.
“We are not going to be asking for a police clearance, we will proceed. Police are advised not to defy citizens’ rights, given to them by the Constitution. As the official opposition in this country we are duty-bound to make sure we keep the government on its toes. We are going to continue regardless of what police will do.”
Mwonzora said the protests are not intended to change the government but to force the Zanu-PF administration into action.
The date of the protests is yet to be announced.
But Zanu-PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo said there was no need for demonstrations. “President Mugabe and Zanu-PF are engaged in addressing challenges affecting the economy through the implementation of its economic blueprint, ZimAsset. The president recently signed mega-deals with China, just last week we had the Russians. They will be opening a new (platinum) mine which will create several jobs for locals. There is no need for the chaos from the Tsvangirai camp,” he said.
“As Zanu-PF we are not just sitting. We are doing something about the economy, yet the MDC want to burn it. All our plans for the economy and country are contained in the ZimAsset document.”
Through the ZimAsset plan, the party says it wants to create 2.2-million jobs by 2018, a projection derided by Tsvangirai.
But critics say the protests are Tsvangirai’s means of remaining relevant – and not really about the suffering of the people.
Political analyst Blessing Vava said Tsvangirai is the wrong person to lead a street protest.
“Tsvangirai’s call for these demos is not necessarily for the people of Zimbabwe but for himself to spruce up his battered image or to prove a point that he is still the most popular opposition leader in the country,” said Vava.
“The demonstrations are likely going to be dealt with with brute force, and I don’t think the MDC has the capacity to mobilise many people to join these demonstrations.”