Security minister blames MDC for Zimbabwe protest chaos

15 January 2019 - 08:00 By Ray Ndlovu
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Zimbabwe's president Emmerson Mnangagwa during a media conference at the State House in Harare on August 3 2018.
Zimbabwe's president Emmerson Mnangagwa during a media conference at the State House in Harare on August 3 2018.
Image: Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, has been blamed for the violent protests which erupted in Harare and Bulawayo on Monday, as citizens protested over fuel hikes.

Owen Ncube, the minister of state for national security, said the protests were “well-orchestrated”, given the widespread scenes of looting, burning of tyres and barricades across roads in both cities.

“The prevailing security situation in the country is a culmination of a well-orchestrated series of events by the MDC Alliance, working in cahoots with NGOs, civic society, youth organisations, pressure groups and individuals,” said Ncube in a statement late on Monday night.

It was the first public comment by a government official over the protests, which have plunged the country into fresh turmoil.

While the chaos ensued, president Emmerson Mnangagwa was away on a five-nation tour which began in Moscow, Russia. He is expected to meet on Tuesday with president Vladimir Putin.

Opposition parties, among them the National Patriotic Front (NPF), on Monday called on Mnangagwa to resign from office.

Jealousy Mawarire, the NPF spokesperson, said the demonstrations were not acts of terrorism, but were an expression of the general population’s concern over the state of the country’s politics.

“We hereby call on president Mnangagwa and his government to resign en masse and pave the way [for] a broad-based platform for different social groupings in the country. Including but not limited to political parties, civic organisations … to negotiate … a democratic transitional government tasked with returning the country to constitutionalism and prosperity,” he said.

At least 200 people are understood to have been arrested by police in connection with the protests. On Sunday, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions called on citizens to stay away in protest over fuel prices hiked on Saturday by Mnangagwa.

Without giving any details, Ncube said the protests had resulted in the loss of life and damage to property. Media reports suggested that scores of protesters were injured and three people may have died in the skirmishes.

“Regrettably, this has resulted in the loss of life and property including injury to police officers and members of the public. We express our deepest condolences to the bereaved families. Full investigations are underway,” he said.

Social media was awash on Monday with images of people shot by police. One woman had a deep gunshot wound on her thigh. She said she had not been taking part in protests.

Ncube blamed the protests on meetings allegedly held last month by the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, a civic society group. He said the series of meetings held by the group were meant to cause disturbances in the country.

“These meetings were co-ordinated by Crisis Coalition and some identified foreign agents. There were other meetings such as the one held [on] 11th January 2019 in Belvedere, whose agenda was to plan for the disturbance of peace and render the country ungovernable,” said Ncube.

“Pursuant to the nefarious agenda, the MDC Alliance activated its notorious terror groups which include the so called Democratic Resistance Committees and the paramilitary Vanguard.”

However, the civil society group denied being part of a regime-change agenda and condemned the government’s heavy-handed response to the protests. It said it stood in solidarity with ordinary Zimbabweans.

Thabani Moyo, a spokesperson of the coalition, told TimesLIVE that Ncube’s comments were regrettable, as the coalition had repeatedly stated its position that it was an institution that represents the collective voices of all civic society organisations with a vision for a democratic Zimbabwe.

“We believe in entrenching the ethos of governance and democracy through peaceful and democratic processes.  Everything else is a process of desperation and scape-goating which is deplorable. The government must operate from the position of truth telling and accept the role of civic society as that of checks and balances which is aimed at strengthening the democratic governance of the country,” said Moyo.

A crackdown by security forces is expected to intensify in the hotspot townships in Harare and Bulawayo, which were the epicentre of the protests.

There were unconfirmed social media reports of night-rime raids in the townships.

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