ANTI-RIOT police and army officers besieged Bulawayo’s CBD on Monday but there was nothing of the chaotic scenes witnessed in Harare Friday last week.
After a ban on its Harare demonstration Friday, the MDC had turned to Bulawayo for another leg of its anti-government demonstration, part of a planned series to register growing discontent over poor national governance by Zanu PF with many now condemned into abject poverty.
The protests, which were also planned for Gweru, Mutare and Masvingo were also spurred by a bid to President Mnangagwa to call for a “genuine” dialogue capable of breaking the current political logjam in the once prosperous country.
Taking lessons from Harare in which hordes of MDC supporters defied a police ban on the protest, police heavily deployed in the city centre, blocking access to some roads by motorists.
Soldiers and armed police on horseback and in trucks were seen patrolling the central business district and most of the high density suburbs.
Using a loudhailer, police warned people against joining the demonstration.
One of the city’s usually busy areas, the precincts of Tredgold Magistrate Courts where illegal forex changers ply their trade, was cordoned off by police.
Large contingents of police patrolled on foot, horseback and in vehicles, setting up checkpoints on roads leading into the city as they searched cars and people for weapons, and cordoning off the MDC offices and the magistrates court.
“The law (used to ban the protest) is clearly unconstitutional and unjust but we have an obligation to comply because we are a peaceful organisation,” David Coltart, Bulawayo lawyer and MDC senator told the media Monday.
An army helicopters deployed show off force.
A court challenge against the police ban was late Monday dismissed by the High Court.
While the MDC had lined up the protests in Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Mutare and Masvingo to register, chief among the reasons, growing discontent over the fast deteriorating economic situation in the country, the Bulawayo demonstration had another dimension to it.
The predominantly Ndebele city has been angered by the jailing of fierce government critic and traditional leader Chief Felix Ndiweni in what residents feel was political persecution.
While there were no witnessed reports of violence in Bulawayo, an MDC heartland, and activity in the city appeared much as normal, later reports linked the city’s deputy mayor Tinashe Kambarami and two party activists to an abduction incident by alleged State agents.
The protest campaign, which the MDC intended to take to two other cities on Tuesday and Wednesday, is again casting a spotlight on that promise, a year after Mnangagwa was elected in a vote the party alleges was rigged.
The 76-year-old Mnangagwa is also struggling to convince the growing ranks of the poor that austerity measures and other reforms can trigger an economic recovery, as anger mounts over triple-digit inflation, rolling power cuts and shortages of US dollars, fuel and bread.
The crisis has brought back memories of the hyperinflation of a decade ago that forced Zimbabwe to ditch its currency.
The president, a Mugabe aide over more than four decades, says Zimbabwe’s economic problems stem from sanctions imposed by the West against his predecessor’s rule nearly two decades ago, worsened by a severe drought that has halved the maize harvest.
On Sunday, the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) group meeting in Tanzania said the sanctions should be lifted immediately “to facilitate socio-economic recovery.”