A heavy police presence in Zimbabwe’s capital stopped a planned mass demonstration against veteran President Robert Mugabe from going forward late on Saturday, as activists claimed police used live ammunition to disperse small protests in the suburbs.
A coalition of opposition parties under the banner of the National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera)had planned countrywide demonstrations demanding reform ahead of the 2018 election, when Mugabe,92, plans to stand again.
But a month-long protest ban and a massive police deployment in Harare saw the event fizzle out before it started.
However, in Bulawayo close to1 000 protesters staged a peaceful march after a high court ruling gave them permission to take to the streets.
Police stood by with armoured vehicles and water cannons.
“All we are demanding is that wewant a free, fair and credible election,” Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) deputy president Thokozani Khupe told the crowd.
“We are drawing a line in the sand and we are saying never again will we allow an election to be held where elections will be rigged.”
Activists in the capital Harare charged the police with intimidation, making arrests and firing against small groups demonstrating in the suburbs.
“The response of the government. . . has been very worrisome. They have used live ammunition in areas including Kuwadzana, Dzirasekwa, Mufakose and Kambuzuma,” Jacob Ngarivhume, whose political party Transform Zimbabwe is part of Nera, said at a media conference.
“We have over 100 people who have been arrested so far.”
The police declined to comment. The activists also alleged that several people were abducted on the eve of the protest.
The MDC said residents were told not to participate in the protest.
“The people were threatened by police and people in plain clothes. They were told, ‘We will beat you up and you will disappear if you embark in the demonstrations’,” MDC spokesman Obert Gutu said.
Police this week had issued an order barring protests in the capital. Campaigners said they would challenge the ban through the courts, which had overturned a similar order earlier this month. Chinese farmers, mean while, have taken over formerly white owned farms for the first time, investing millions into tobacco production.
Farms that were badly managed for nearly 20 years after Mugabe’s mass seizure of white-owned land, are now being worked again in the hope of reaping a potentially huge reward.
At least five farms have attracted Chinese investment in Mashona land Central, a region to the north-west of Harare which was traditionally one of the country’s best tobacco-producing areas.
Safe in the knowledge that Mugabe’s policy of strengthening ties with China will offer a degree of protection, they have poured money into machinery and are taking advice from international experts.
China has become the largest investor in Zimbabwe.