ARMED military and police officers yesterday cordoned off Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) headquarters and jammed streets in Harare to prevent a possible MDC Alliance protest over the commission’s move to exclude the opposition party from talks on electoral reforms.
Zec yesterday left out the MDC Alliance from its provincial stakeholder meetings, with a leaked internal memo showing that it was taking orders from an unnamed external authority.
The commission is holding discussions on, among other issues, the electoral concerns, the legal framework, the electoral cycle, voter registration, delimitation and the polling process in preparation for future polls.
It has invited other political parties, including the Douglas Mwonzora-led MDC-T, but excluded Nelson Chamisa’s MDC Alliance.
The military yesterday increased its visibility with the mounting of roadblocks on some main roads leading to the central business district.
The police and soldiers were conducting searches on vehicles headed for the city centre in the early hours of yesterday.
Since Wednesday evening, soldiers have also been milling around Zec offices and maintained their presence until midday yesterday.
Yesterday morning between 7am and 8am, two police trucks packed with the law enforcement agents, were also parked at the Zec entrance.
The trucks left at around 10am, leaving the police officers to guard the premises.
The atmosphere was tense.
Three MDC Alliance activists who protested at the Zec provincial offices, including former councillor Denford Ngadziore, were arrested, as well as 10 journalists who were covering the protests.
The journalists were later released without charge.
Zimbabwe National Army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Alphios Makotore could not immediately confirm whether there was a special operation that involved the military.
He demanded written inquiries that he promised to respond to today.
“We do not give comments over the phone and now it is late. We can only comment tomorrow,” Makotore said.
Police spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi, however, said the increase police presence and other security elements was to deal with those defying COVID-19 regulations.
“Police and other security services are assisting the Ministry of Health and Child Care in terms of COVID-19 lockdown regulations enforcement,” Nyathi said.
“Basically, this is what the police and security services are doing. So our presence and that of other security services on the road or any public place is necessitated by the need to maintain law and order, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic where you realise that there are people not prioritising the health and safety of others, especially the issue of not wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing, among others.
“We need to remind the people to be law-abiding citizens. That is why sometimes you see that we deliberately increase the presence of police officers and other security services on the roads or public services.”
He could not explain the heavy presence of the police and military around Zec offices, but confirmed the arrests of three MDC Alliance activists and journalists.
“Journalists were released after they identified themselves, except three suspects who were being interviewed,” he said.
The Zimbabwe Union of Journalists condemned the arrest of journalists yesterday saying: “We find such police actions highly unacceptable and were clearly designed at foiling the 10 journalists’ coverage of the Zec proceedings and thus stifling truth, which is fundamental to national development.”
But observers said the increase in the number of security services in the capital showed that President Emmerson Mnangagwa feared a potential wave of protests by angry opposition elements after the Zec exclusion.
In a statement yesterday, MDC Alliance Harare provincial women assembly spokesperson Kudzai Kadzombe said the party activists wanted to attend a stakeholder meeting convened by Zec, focusing on the 2023 general elections.
“As Harare women assembly, we demand the immediate release of our youth secretary and all the innocent journalists. Zec has been turned into a political weapon for the regime and this has to stop,” she said.