Zanu-PF stokes foreign plot fears

Minister puts security forces on red alert to prevent 'overthrow' of the government

05 May 2019 - 00:00 By JAMES THOMPSON

The security apparatus is on standby to thwart a plot by nongovernmental organisations and the MDC Alliance to overthrow the government, according to home affairs minister Cain Mathema.
He said information about the alleged conspiracy was based on "intelligence" from the police and other security services. He said a group of foreign nationals intended to hold a three-day civic organisation workshop in Bulawayo this month. Their plan was to incite public protests, said Mathema.
"The main agenda of the workshop is to mobilise and capacitate civic organisations and individuals to stage purported effective demonstrations and disturbances to overthrow the Zanu-PF government."
PODCAST: Smaller parties suspect fraud
The government had ordered security agencies to stop civil disobedience, he said.But civil society and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) said they did not know of any workshop, and the claim was just a pretext to crack down on dissenting voices.Political analyst Nigel Nyamutumbu said the government was resorting to the tactics used by Robert Mugabe's regime to intimidate civil-society organisations."Whenever citizens raise legitimate concerns or bring to the attention of government their deplorable standards of living, the Zanu-PF government is either brutal, heavy-handed or insincere," said Nyamutumbu."This clampdown is intensifying with civil society organisations who, in carrying out their legal mandate of holding government accountable, are then subjected to all forms of threats, synonymous with the Mugabe regime."In a Workers' Day address on Wednesday, MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa said threats would not stop people taking to the streets.
"A demonstration cannot be characterised as mayhem and anarchy. It's a constitutionally guaranteed right, voted for by millions of Zimbabweans who knew that there will be failures like [President Emmerson] Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF," said Chamisa.
Surveillance of NGOs and individuals has begun. Last week human rights lawyer Douglas Coltart handed himself over to the police in connection with an April 27 meeting of teacher activists from which four teachers were allegedly abducted by the Central Intelligence Organisation.
He was released after being charged alongside the four teachers for participating in a gathering that allegedly intended to promote public violence, breaches of the peace or bigotry.
The government said civic unrest was being fuelled on the basis of economic failure, but it said the blame for the crisis lay with the opposition rather than Zanu-PF.
"It must be known that those economic challenges facing the country were brought about by the MDC," said Mathema.
"The sanctions were brought about by the MDC Alliance, so it is laughable that we should be accused, as government, of causing the economic challenges. We do not want price increases at all and the government will do all it can to ensure prices stabilise."
The crackdown follows increases of at least 200% so far this year in the prices of basic commodities and services. Responding to the price hikes, teachers said they might not report for work when the second school term of the year starts on Tuesday.
"Going to work, let alone paying school fees for their own children, is now a nightmare for teachers," said Takavafira Zhou, president of the Progressive Teachers Union.
Rashweat Mukundu, a political analyst, said the teachers' stayaway threat could ignite another round of riots like those that followed increased fuel prices in January.
"What we are seeing is a natural response by workers as incomes are eroded," said Mukundu.
"Zimbabwe is facing another season of protests as frustrated workers vent their anger. The government needs to engage the broad civil society organisations and political groups more sincerely."
Zanu-PF accused the MDC Alliance this week of taking advantage of people's misery. "Zanu-PF will not stand and watch innocent citizens being used for political expedience under its watch," said party spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo.
Legal experts say the Maintenance of Peace and Order Bill, which has replaced the hardline Public Order and Security Act of 2002, will still stifle freedom of association and expression, and freedom to demonstrate.
"It will still be a criminal act to demonstrate. Had they changed that law, it could have equipped people to freely express their misgivings," said lawyer Abigail Tshuma...

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