Riot police yesterday had running battles with over 500 war veterans, ruthlessly dispersing the former freedom fighters who wanted to hold a meeting in the precincts of the capital's central business district to vent their anger over remarks by First Lady Grace at her rally in Chiweshe last week as Zanu-PF factional fights reached tipping point
The Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA), a group of former liberation war fighters aligned to embattled line minister Christopher Mutsvangwa, were planning to hold a meeting at the Zanu-PF headquarters but were told by security officials manning the premise that there was a SADC meeting at the venue. The officials told them they had been booked Harare City Sports Centre, but they found baton wielding police officers, in riot gear, waiting for them at the venue.
"The police officers asked what we wanted and when we told them we were war veterans and had come for a meeting, they demanded to see our clearance letter," said a war veteran, who called himself Cde Hondo.
"There was a misunderstanding which resulted in a standoff. Tempers eventually flared as we felt that they had no right of stopping us from meeting considering that we fought and liberated this country so that there could be freedom of association and assembly.
"The police officers however used teargas and water cannons to drive us away around 10am after telling us the meeting was not sanctioned."
The war veterans, who were led by ZNLWVA secretary for small and medium-sized enterprises, Agnes Siyakurima Rusike, had resisted the police order insisting they wanted to be addressed by their leadership, before the police used force.
A number of war veterans fainted because of the effects of the teargas, while the force of the water coming out of the cannons at high pressure knocked some veterans off their feet. The area stretching from the City Sports Centre to the Harare Magistrates Courts and Rainbow Towers was dotted with war veterans after they were dispersed.
Some of the protesters tried to convene at the grounds commonly known as Freedom Square around midday, but were again dispersed by the police. The war veterans were angered by the move and could be heard shouting obscenities at Grace whom they accused of setting the police on them.
"Hatina kuuya kuita zvechihure pano. Tauya kuzonzwa zve welfare yedu isu ma war veterans. Zveku bedroom ngazvigare kubedroom. (We did not come here to solicit for sex. We came here to understand issues to do with our welfare. What happens in bedrooms should stay in bedrooms).
"We don't want bedroom politics to interfere with us," said one of the members who identified himself as Cde Zvabenda-Zvabenda, insinuating that there was a bedroom coup in Zimbabwe.
Addressing a press conference yesterday afternoon, war veterans leader Christopher Mutsvangwa, likened the police reaction to that of the South African police when they dealt with striking platinum miners in Marikana, where police shot and killed 44 miners.
"These are the war vets who were subjected to such treatment by the State. We equate such brutality to the South African Marikana scenario. Clearly to see police bringing out paraphernalia of violence and beat up war vets who are unarmed, the best they had were cellphones, and who were coming to attend a meeting its equivalent to Marikana scenario because the State has gone berserk," he said. "We don't know why the state has gone berserk,"
However, police spokesperson Charity Charamba justified the police reaction saying the war veterans meeting was thwarted because it was "an unlawful gathering".
"The war veterans did not give notice according to section (25) (1) of POSA (Public Order and Security Act). They were supposed to give a notice of seven days. The constitution criminalises their action," she said.