10 December 2017

Zimbabwe: Opposition Leaders Rage Against Unlawful Army Operations, Urge Ed to Explain Presence of Soldiers in the Streets

Photo: The Herald
(file photo)

What started as euphoria as a result of former president Robert Mugabe's ouster seems to have degenerated into despair and anger as the soldiers that continue to roam the streets are increasingly accused of violating people's rights.

Many Zimbabweans have, in the past week, increased their criticism of the army.

Mutare Central legislator Innocent Gonese last week implored Parliament to call the country's military to order for overstepping their mandate through deployments in operations aimed at driving out vendors from the CBD of major cities, presumably outside their commander's permission.

Gonese raised the matter during sitting of the lower house on Wednesday.

He said parliament had powers to protect the Constitution through ensuring all State institutions and government agencies acted constitutionally and in the national interest.

The MDC-T legislator said Section 213 of the constitution gave a sitting President and Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces the sole prerogative to authorise the deployment of the military in operations such as the defence of the country, supporting the police to maintain public order or aiding civilians during times of emergency or disaster.

Gonese said it was worrisome the President has remained tight-lipped over the conspicuous presence of soldiers during operations to remove illegal vendors from the streets.

"I am saying that as Parliament, we have not been officially informed by the Head of State, and the nation at large has not received any notification," Gonese said.

"I believe that if that happens, due process must be followed. The Head of State could have addressed the nation in that regard or a Statutory Instrument could have been gazetted or a general notice to inform the nation at large - that does not seem to have happened and that is what is the gravamen of the matter.

"Because, when that happens, Mr. Speaker, I would like to assume that things must be done transparently and openly. For it to be done transparently and openly, the public must be notified in some way which I am not aware of Mr. Speaker."

The decision to deploy soldiers to partner State and municipal police in cities such as Harare, Mutare and Bulawayo follows events of the past three weeks in which the military seized control of government and forced the law enforcement agents into the background.

MDC-T Vice President Nelson Chamisa warned that the government's efforts to turn around the economy could be hampered by the joint police-army patrols.

"The continued occupation of the streets by the army scares away investors. It does not inspire confidence," Chamisa said at a news conference on Friday.

People's Democratic Party leader, Tendai Biti said: "We now have a huge elephant in the living room as we sit here today which is the existence of tanks in the streets; the existence of a new order- the military party state conflation.

"For 37 years, the visible expression of the regime was party conflation of the regime but, after November of 2017, it is quite clear that we are now living in a new era, the era of a military party state conflation," said Biti.

"There is need for important political and institutional reform to ensure that we deflate this military party state conflation. We require the implementation of political and institutional reform. We also have to address the agenda of free fair, uncontested election," Biti told journalists at the weekend.

Tajamuka/Sesjikile social movement said it had given the army up to Wednesday to wind up their business and vacate the streets.

In a statement released Saturday, #Tajamuka/Sesjikile warned the army that Zimbabweans are peace loving people whose dignity should be respected.

"Tajamuka notes with grave concern the harassment and intimidation of citizens by members of the army. This has to stop forthwith. Needless attacks on unarmed citizens going about their lawful business will not go unchallenged.

"We give the army up to Wednesday the 13th of December 2017 to wind up their unwelcome business and disappear from the streets, failure of which the people's movement will step in.

"We want to assure the people (vendors included) that together as citizens we can challenge and defeat this status quo of anarchy and lawlessness," read part of #Tajamuka/Sesjikile statement.

Zimbabweans celebrated when the army removed Mugabe from power. But the euphoria seems to have been overtaken by despair and anger over the actions of the army.

Last week, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa in his 2018 budget announcement revealed that the army would be deployed at all border posts.

But Biti, who is also the MDC Alliance Chairman on Policy formulation, said Zimbabwe faces a crisis of legitimacy and warned of a serious assault on the country's constitution by the military.

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