Fearing the development of Egyptian-style mass protests in the country, Zimbabwe police have been banning marches and rallies in most urban areas despite a Southern African Development Community call for accelerated democratic reforms.
Police in Mutare, Manicaland province, and Kwekwe, Midlands Province banned planned May Day marches by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions on security grounds.
Mutare Chief Superintendent Joseph Chani told the ZCTU: “Please be advised that permission to hold a May Day procession has not been granted.” He said processions have been temporarily banned for security reasons until further notice.
Both formations of the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change saw planned rallies banned or disrupted by the police. Church leaders who organized a prayer meeting in Harare this month were violently dispersed by the police.
South African President Jacob Zuma, mediator for SADC in Zimbabwe, warned President Robert Mugabe of “unprecedented upheavals” if reforms were not speedily instituted. He made the statement in a report to a recent SADC mini-summit in Livingstone, Zambia.
Sources say the Joint Operations Command, comprising top military and security service officers, is behind the crackdown on critics of ZANU-PF and President Mugabe.
They note that more than 100 officials of the MDC formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai have been arrested, with similar official pressure exerted on civil society.
The Joint Operations Commmand was to have been disbanded under the terms of the 2008 Global Political Agreement for power sharing, to be replaced by the National Security Council. But the former continues to meet and the latter is toothless.
Co-Ministers of Home Affairs Kembo Mohadi of ZANU-PF and Theresa Makone of the Tsvangirai MDC formation told VOA they are not aware marches and rallies are being blocked by police, which in theory they oversee. Makone, observing that police seem to fear Egyptian-style protests, called their actions short-sighted.
A number of Zimbabwean security officials and ZANU-PF hardliners have issued warnings against any attempts to follow the lead of Tunisia and Egypt.
ZCTU Deputy Secretary General Japhet Moyo told VOA Studio 7 reporter Blessing Zulu the Zimbabwe Republic Police are abusing the law in barring gatherings.
Political analyst Trevor Maisiri said police actions undermine efforts by regional leaders to promote sweeping democratic and electoral reforms in Harare.