Zimbabweans are capable of protesting peacefully

Dear Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri

On Saturday 18 November 2017, thousands of Zimbabweans gathered in Harare, Bulawayo and other cities to march against the continued stay in power of then President Robert Gabriel Mugabe. This was the first time that Zimbabweans were allowed to exercise their constitutional right to demonstrate and petition without police interference in a long time, despite the constitution being clear in section 59. On the day in question, Zimbabweans participated in mass protests that drew huge numbers of people and demonstrated beyond any doubt that they can exercise these rights peacefully and without infringing on other people’s rights.

Previous attempts to march have resulted in police blocking the marches often resorting to heavy handed tactics even in instances where there has ben clearance or court orders authorising such marches under the pretext of maintaining law and order. In 2016 the government issued Statutory Instrument 101A, which temporarily prohibited demonstrations in the Central Business District of Harare citing violence during protests.

The recent protests have revealed that the violent parties in protests and demonstrations are actually the police. As the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), we are not aware of any incidents during the protests where lives and property were at risk. We did not even record any incidents of this nature which are common every time citizens want to exercise their right to demonstrate and petition. The police were conspicuous by their absence in the recent protests. The November 18 protests are sending a message to you Commissioner General and the entire Zimbabwe Republic Police service to rethink your approach to citizen protests. The incessant claims that protests are associated with violence and looting are unfounded. Apart from minor destruction of road signs targeting Robert Mugabe Way and miscellaneous traffic offences, the ZPP monitors on the ground did not record any other incidents of violence or malicious damage to property or any cases of unruly behaviour. These are minor infractions that do not warrant a complete curtailment of people’s rights as provided for in section 59 and 67.

Indeed, the peace and calm that prevailed on this day must inspire the ZRP not to assume the worst about Zimbabwean citizens.

Police are urged to swap provocative and heavy handed tactics in maintaining law and order to methods used by the military on the day who were seen and demonstrated they were friends of citizens on the day. Most citizens took time to take selfies with the military, something that they would never think of doing with those under your charge. In section 219 the constitution speaks of a Police service, but what we have seen in the past is a police “force.”

The absence of police on the road has been met with a lot of good feedback by most Zimbabwean citizens and it is from this basis that we seek that those under your charge take a leaf from the experience Zimbabweans have had interacting with the military in maintaining order and allowing citizens to exercise their constitutional rights.

We must emulate other countries such as South Africa that maintain a database on protests and public violence. The data collected from this has revealed that policing methods and police conduct are often the catalyst of violence. The Zimbabwe Republic Police must also keep such data and use scientific methods in crowd control to mitigate against unnecessary infringement of people’s rights.

As ZPP we hope that lessons will be drawn from these peaceful protests and herald a new chapter where police respect citizens’ rights and engage the public to ensure orderly and peaceful protests. As Zimbabwe leaps into a new ear, we urge you Commissioner General to have those under your charge become a police service to be proud of in the new dawn.

Source: Zimbabwe Peace Project