Members of the military gesture as they patrol the streets of the capital Harare, Zimbabwe, August 2 2018. Picture: REUTERS
Members of the military gesture as they patrol the streets of the capital Harare, Zimbabwe, August 2 2018. Picture: REUTERS

Harare — On Thursday, Zimbabwe’s police arrested trade union leaders to thwart a planned protest over rising prices and a worsening economic crisis.

A Harare magistrate later banned street protests, arguing that any demonstrations could turn violent due to the mood in the country. 

Distressed by a deteriorating economy, Zimbabweans are increasingly looking to street protests as a way out of their quagmire. Fresh in the minds of many are the scenes of November 18 when hundreds of thousands marched to demand that long-time ruler Robert Mugabe step down; he handed resigned three days after the protests.

More recently, however, on August 1, street protests turned fatal when an army crackdown left six dead as opposition supporters demonstrated against the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s (ZEC) handling of the July 30 elections.

Belief that more street protests could provide a solution to the country’s crisis have begun to grow and the opposition MDC Alliance has indicated that it may take this route.

On Thursday, police in Harare appeared well-equipped to deal with any civil disobedience as they swooped on dozens of activists and representatives of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) who took to the streets.

ZCTU leader Peter Mutasa was among those arrested after calling for demonstrations in Harare despite a police ban on public gatherings in the capital due to the recent cholera outbreak. Later in the day, a Harare magistrate dismissed a court application by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), which sought to revoke the ban on mass gatherings.

In an interview with Business Day in Harare, ZLHR spokesperson Kumbirai Mafunda said: “I confirm the arrests of ZCTU president Mutasa and secretary-general [Japhet] Moyo at their offices, and dozens of other unionists in Harare, Masvingo and Mutare. Our court case, in which we were challenging the ban on demonstrations, has also been thrown out by the magistrates.” 

In his ruling, magistrate Lanzani Ncube upheld a standing order that bans public gatherings due to the cholera outbreak that has left 50 dead and about 10,000 ill. The magistrate also emphasised that the protests could turn violent given the country’s current mood.

MDC Alliance officials have accused police of selectively applying the ban, saying supporters of President Emmerson Mnangagwa have been allowed to hold rallies in the capital.