The security sector is on high alert in Bulawayo as helicopters, armored vehicles and heavy security detail roam the streets in response to the planned series of protest by the MDC over the country’s deepening socio-economic crisis.
The protests were banned by the High Court after receiving applications from the Zimbabwe Republic Police citing that they might turn violent. The banning of demonstrations is a blatant violation of the Constitution which chief amongst other legal statutes guarantees the right to demonstrate, freedom of assembly, association and expression.
The Bulawayo protest (which was banned on Saturday) was scheduled to take place today amid tensions that have engulfed the city following the arrest of Chief Nhlanhlayamangwe Ndiweni and 23 others accused of malicious damage to property.
Ndiweni’s 18 months jail sentence on Friday raised tempers within Bulawayo and beyond; resulting in the burning of tyres, barricading of roads in the city’s busiest areas by a group believed to be linked to the Mthwakazi Republic Party.
Two days before his arrest, Chief Ndiweni posted video urging citizens to take part in the planned demos and this has raised speculation that the harsh sentence meted to him was an indirect response to his solidarity stance. In the meantime his family has indicated an intention to appeal against the judgment.
Tempers flared on Saturday when the MDC national executive member Thabitha Khumalo was arrested together with party members while allegedly mobilizing for the planned Bulawayo demonstration.
Worthy to note is that some of the Bulawayo business community also filed an urgent court application seeking to stop the protest citing the damage that was caused during the January protests which saw destruction and looting of property prompting the army to descend heavily on the civilians.
There is heavy police presence in the city centre, minimal in townships since Saturday. The heavy presence of security agencies is epitomized by multitudes of anti-riot policemen, mounted policemen, water canons and an army helicopter flying low.
In the morning, there was disruption of business as most major shops were closed, low traffic volumes and a handful of commuters being picked up by private cars. ZUPCO buses were available but with a few people boarding.
The situation has not been helped by fake statements purportedly by MDC Alliance provincial spokesperson Daniel Molokela allegedly calling off the protest.
Molokela confirmed that the statement purportedly issued by him was fake and did not originate from him or the MDC Alliance. There appears to be an emerging pattern of calculated dissemination of fake news as a counter or containment strategy.
There have been no reported incidences of violence so far in the city.
Habakkuk Trust will continue to monitor unfolding events.