Fidelis Munyoro Harare Bureau
A MEETING called by the deposed national war veterans’ association leadership in Harare yesterday was broken up with teargas and water cannons by the police.
Dozens of war veterans, who had assembled at the City Sports Centre to attend what was billed as a crisis meeting, were ordered to disperse by police who told them the gathering was illegal.
When some of the war veterans failed to heed the police directive, the riot squad stepped into action and fired teargas as well as using water cannons to disperse the crowd.
Reports said some of the ex-combatants had fainted during the skirmishes, apparently as a result of the teargas.
Police chief spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba yesterday said police were enforcing the law.
She said the war vets were supposed to have applied for police clearance seven days before their meeting, which they had neglected to do.
“According to Section 25(1 (a) of the Public Order and Security Act, any procession or gathering should be applied for seven days before to the regulatory authority, while for a public meeting it should be five days before,” she said.
Snr Asst Comm Charamba said when applying, the venue should be provided so that police make an assessment in the interest of public safety.
In this case, she said, the war veterans had no venue after they were denied the venue they wanted to hold their meeting at – the Zanu-PF Headquarters.
“They only came today with a notice to notify the regulatory authority of their meeting,” said Snr Asst Comm Charamba.
“The law also criminalises those who fail to give notice to the police. The venue they wanted to use (City Sports Centre) had been booked by other people and that’s why police had to disperse them. As police, we also don’t tolerate actions that will incite violence.”
Later, Cde Chris Mutsvangwa — kicked out as the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association chairman last week — held a press conference where he condemned the police.
“I’m addressing you with a heavy heart,” he said.
“A heavy heart stemming from the events of this morning, specifically the fact that the police found itself resorting to heavy handed violence against war veterans who were coming to Harare for an extraordinary meeting of the war veterans.
“These members, they voluntarily disarmed themselves as far back as 1980 though they had lived with a gun day and night for a good part of their youth as they fought for the independence of Zimbabwe.”
Cde Mutsvangwa said for the past 35 years, the war veterans campaigned for Zanu-PF.
“These are the war veterans who were today and whose delegations were subject to violence by the State,” he said.
He likened the incident to a “political Marikana for Zimbabwe” – reference to the 34 miners killed during a protest at London Mine in Marikana, South Africa, in August 2012 after police opened fire on them.
Cde Mutsvangwa said police brought out the “paraphernalia of violence”, including the newest water cannons bought from Israel and elsewhere to beat up war veterans.
“The best weapons they (war veterans) would have had would be a cell phone,” he said. “They had nothing of violence on them to be beaten by the police simply for trying to attend a meeting.
“I say this is an equivalent of Marikana for Zimbabwe where you simply prey upon your own people because the State has gone berserk.
“And we wonder why the State has gone berserk. We are outraged. We condemn this violence.”
Cde Mutsvangwa insists he does not recognise a vote of no confidence passed on him as the chairperson of the war veterans’ association last week, and his replacement by Cde Mandi Chimene from Manicaland.