the time the teargas had dissipated at Zimbabwe Grounds and the nearby Machipisa Shopping Centre and Engineering sections, scores of people were nursing bruises, lacerations and broken bones. And the ground’s reputation as the home of people power had been reduced to ashes.
Residents of Highfields might have been expecting trouble, but no-one was prepared for the scale of the clashes. According to the police, 122 “MDC thugs” were arrested “as they unleashed an orgy of violence, injuring several police officers”. Opposition officials refute this, claiming two of their members were actually killed during the mayhem and that more than 127 people were arrested while scores others had sustained broken bones.
The rally was to mark the launch of MDC’s 2008 presidential election campaign and to give a platform to demands a new constitution.
Initial efforts by the police to thwart the rally through the excuse that they were short staffed fell through after High Court Judge Gowora had handed down a ruling late on Saturday giving MDC permission to go ahead.
At least 20 MDC members, including several legislators, were detained on Saturday on trumped-up charges of assaulting police officers during riots that broke out in Harare on Friday.
The impromptu march left a trail of destruction, including a damaged ZRP Post in First Street and broken windows at Herald House
Undeterred by state threats of violence, opposition supporters turned up in huge numbers on Sunday. The violence started when police began ejecting supporters from Zimbabwe Grounds. Soon there were running battles in the streets.
“The police tried to disperse our members who had gathered at Zimbabwe Grounds ut the people reacted angrily,” said Mara Ngwenya, who was among the people who slept at Zimbabwe Grounds. Claiming that the MDC supporters threw stones, Ngwenya added, “the police fired teargas and then live bullets into the air as a warning. The retreated and then returned with water canons. Then they aimed them at the crowd. I saw 10 people fall.”
When the scale of the carnage became clear, the police were roundly condemned for using excessive force. But the police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena told State television: “The decision not to sanction that rally was reached on the basis of previous acts of violence perpetrated by the opposition party’s supporters.”
Police were also accused of human rights abuses following the clashes. Several cases of harassment and torture in police cells soon came to light.
MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said inmates were beaten up while in police custody. – Gift Phiri
HARARE - Months of simmering political tensions, coupled with President Robert Mugabe's plan to impose an illegal extension of his widely unpopular rule, came to a head at the weekend when police forcefully broke up an opposition rally scheduled to be addressed by MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.