Police monitor a crowd outside the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance's headquarters in Harare, November 20 2019. Picture: JEKESAI NJIKIZANA / AFP
Police monitor a crowd outside the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance's headquarters in Harare, November 20 2019. Picture: JEKESAI NJIKIZANA / AFP

Zimbabwe’s police on Wednesday randomly beat civilians and supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) near the party’s headquarters in Harare.

The police brutality resembled the heavy handed leadership of former president Robert Mugabe and raised new doubts about President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s commitment to political reforms in the southern African country.

Political tensions are simmering in Zimbabwe as citizens face a severe economic and political crisis marked by galloping inflation and shortages of food, electricity, foreign currency, fuel and medicines. A two-month strike by doctors has crippled hospitals and most teachers are at work for only a few days a week. They blame poor salaries and rampant inflation. 

On Monday, SA’s international relations minister Naledi Pandor said Zimbabwe needs to find internal solutions to its political and economic crisis, and SA is prepared to help.

On Wednesday, hundreds of police officers blocked roads leading to the MDC’s headquarters as they attempted to disperse the scores of people who had gathered to hear an address by leader Nelson Chamisa.

Shortly after Chamisa entered the building police wantonly beat up supporters outside, as well as passers-by.

A number of people were assaulted by the police, including journalists and MDC parliamentarian Vincent Tsvangirai.

Addressing a press conference, Chamisa said Mnangagwa’s administration showed that it was worse than Mugabe’s.

“When you see a regime afraid of the people, know that the end is nigh and that [the government] is illegitimate. Mugabe is now looking like a small boy when it comes to dictatorships compared to the current government. Mnangagwa has shown that old habits die hard. He has gone back to the script of tyranny.”

Chamisa said he suspected that the officers who beat up people were soldiers dressed in police uniform to disguise their identity.

He said Zimbabwe was undergoing a “soft genocide” with  patients dying in hospitals as doctors continue their strike while the government ignored the crisis.  Senior officials were seeking treatment outside the country, he said.

Commenting on Twitter, former deputy prime minister Arthur Mutambara accused Zimbabwe’s government of imposing sanctions on itself.

“These are the self-imposed sanctions. Then you have the nerve to self-righteously demand removal of external sanctions when you are busy brutalising your citizens, giving the foreigners the excuse to ignore your pleas. It is called strategic incoherence.”

Before Chamisa’s address, Harare police commander Oscar Mugomeri sent a letter to the MDC saying the state feared that suffering citizens would “take advantage of the gathering” to protest against the government.

“The ordinary citizens in the country are experiencing economic hardships so any call for the public meeting in the CBD might be taken advantage of by the already agitated citizens and violence might erupt,” the police commander said.