Seventeen Beitbridge residents on Sunday appeared before a local magistrate following their arrest on Friday after the border town was rocked by public protests on the import ban on some basic commodities.
In a statement posted on its Facebook page, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said the 17 are facing charges of public violence.
“The 17 residents made up of 16 men and one woman appeared before Beitbridge Magistrate Gloria Takundwa for initial remand, where their lawyer Reason Mutimba of Mawadze and Simwango Legal Practitioners, a member of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, raised complaints against Zimbabwe Republic Police officers, whom he accused of assaulting 10 of the residents during the time when the law enforcement agents rounded them up in the border town.
“The 17 residents were arrested on Friday 01 July 2016 and charged with public violence in contravention of Section 36 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act Chapter 9:23 following a protest allegedly staged in the border town against the imposition of import duty on some basic commodities by the government.”
The lawyers group said magistrate Takundwa remanded them in custody to Tuesday, when she will consider their bail application. “The matter had to be postponed after prosecutors indicated that they could not fully respond to issues pertaining to the release of the residents on bail as they needed to consult their superiors on how to proceed.
“ZLHR commends court officials for going out of their comforts by convening a court session on a Sunday in an unprecedented move, which ensured that the rights of the accused persons are recognized in terms of the provisions of the new constitution, which outlaws detaining accused persons beyond 48 hours without bringing them to court.”
Business at Zimbabwe’s biggest border post, Beitbridge, came to a standstill Friday for about six hours after hundreds of people from either side of the border demonstrated against the banning of some goods from entering the country following the start of the implementation of Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016 on that day.
A Zimbabwe Revenue Authority warehouse was allegedly set on fire by the protesters who also smashed traffic lights and broke other infrastructure in the border town. Indications are that the warehouse, which had goods confiscated from travelers was ransacked before being set on fire.
On the other side of the border South Africans, Indians and Ethiopians together with the Zimbabweans marched from Musina, about 12 kilometers away, towards the border but were stopped by police who promised to engage with the Zimbabwe government to resolve the issue.
Police could not ascertain the value of the goods believed to be running into millions of dollars. As a result of the violence, Botswana Television reported Friday that the government was considering closing its borders with Zimbabwe.
The government argues that Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016, which was formulated by the Rhodesian government in 1974 as a way of countering sanctions, is a timely measure to reign in the ballooning import bill that has seen locally produced goods neglected because they are more expensive than imports.
Some of the banned goods include furniture, baked beans, potato crisps, cereals, bottled water, mayonnaise, salad cream, peanut butter, jams, maheu, canned fruits and vegetables, pizza base, yoghurts, flavoured milks, dairy juice blends, ice-creams, cultured milk and cheese, among several others.