Ordinary Zimbabweans, analysts and opposition parties say the move by President Robert Mugabe’s government this week to ban all demonstrations in Harare show clearly that the ruling Zanu PF is in “serious panic” and that much-needed change is around the corner.

Speaking to the Daily News yesterday, all the interviewees said the jittery Zanu PF’s mooted plans to also amend the country’s new Constitution — to remove clauses which legalise demonstrations — also confirmed that its bigwigs knew that their days in office were now numbered.These sentiments were made as agitated opposition parties were making frantic efforts yesterday to file an urgent constitutional application challenging the protest ban in Harare by “stretched” police, and which critics say is reminiscent of the suppression methods that were used by Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith against freedom fighters.

The ban, which will run for two weeks until September 16 — and which analysts say is a “test run” by the ruling party of a looming state of emergency — was invoked as 18 opposition parties were due to hold nationwide demonstrations against delays in implementing key electoral reforms.

It also came after police had last Friday ignored a court order and gone on to bludgeon thousands of protestors who had gathered in the capital to stage a mega demonstration.
The heavily armed riot police — backed by armoured trucks and water cannons — indiscriminately fired volleys of teargas at all and sundry, battering and chasing around groups of determined opposition supporters to the shock of Zimbabweans.

Respected University of Zimbabwe lecturer Eldred Masunungure, was among those who told the Daily News that although the imposition of the ban was done within the confines of the law, it was the “clearest sign yet that Zanu PF has pressed the panic baton”.

“It is clear they are panicking. This shows that they have lost control and have now imposed the ban in a localised area, Harare. This is a localised state of emergency which falls short of a national one, which they would like to impose.“They are testing the waters to see if anyone can challenge the imposition of the ban. They also want to see if the two-week period can have the desired effect.

“This is a pilot programme to see how they can ensure that their intervention will be effective.

“From the various reactions by senior party officials and also the State media, they have been rattled and these are the measures meant to contain a difficult situation.“It suggests that the authorities have taken the issue seriously as they fear there could be an escalation of tensions and eventually an Arab Spring of sorts,” Masunungure said.“The provision in Posa (Public Order and Security Act), under which the order was issued allows bans to run only for a specified period of no more than one month.

“Nevertheless, there is no guarantee that the ban will not be renewed upon expiry,” University of Kent law lecturer, Alex Magaisa, said on his blog.“To that extent, it is probable that the ban may become permanent rather than a temporary feature in Harare. This is reminiscent of the 1980s Zimbabwe when the state of emergency was renewed every six months.

“If Mugabe wants to declare a state of emergency, then he must do so using the appropriate constitutional provisions. The easiest ground to dismiss the Statutory instrument 101A is that it violates section 134 (b.) of the Constitution which prohibits statutory instruments from contravening fundamental rights.

“The second is that it violates the right to human dignity, which is an inviolable right,” Magaisa added, warning that if the statute was allowed to stand, it could open the floodgates for Zanu PF to use subsidiary pieces of legislation and further endanger democracy in the country.

Former State Security minister and founding member of the Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) party Didymus Mutasa said the police ban had the net effect of “galvanising” Zimbabweans and opposition parties.“This ban has actually galvanised demonstrators. People are saying that the government is now scared and using laws that were used by Smith.

“We suffered under those laws during the liberation struggle and this is the second time we are suffering from those laws when we are supposed to be free.“We fought for freedom, and then they expelled us from their party. They should let us fight for our democratic rights. They want to protect themselves from the will of the people but will now suffer from their sins,” Mutasa told the Daily News.

Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme, citing the famous French writer Victor Hugo’s quotation that “you cannot stop an idea whose time has come”, said public anger against Mugabe and Zanu PF would “eventually explode”.“It seems we do not learn from history. Everything the Zanu PF regime is doing, from draconian laws, police brutality, arrests, abductions, enforced disappearances and state of emergency-like measures were all tried and used by the Smith regime but failed to stifle the liberation struggle.

“Why would they work now,” Saungweme queried further.Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, is battling to contain swelling public anger against his administration’s misrule, with Zimbabwe currently deep in the throes of a debilitating economic crisis which has resulted in thousands of companies closing their doors and hundreds of thousands of people losing their jobs over the past three years alone.

This has seen angry Zimbabweans holding protests across the country as they agitate for change, which analysts say could come at a heavy cost to both Zanu PF and the restive populace.

In July, riots also broke out in the border town of Beitbridge, when angry traders protested against the government’s ill-advised decision to ban the importation of basic consumer goods.More than 70 people were arrested in the aftermath of those riots which destroyed property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, including the burning of a warehouse belonging to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

The riots later spread to Harare where police once again used force to break a demonstration called by commuter omnibus drivers and touts to protest too many police roadblocks on the roads which they said had become extortionate.