Hundreds of police backed by soldiers and army helicopters have been deployed in Zimbabwe’s second city on Monday, in a show of force that stopped the main opposition party from launching an anti-government protest march for the second time in four days.
The street march in Bulawayo was called by the Movement for Democratic Change’s (MDC) as it looks to rally support nation-wide against President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government, which it accuses of repression and blames for the country’s worst economic crisis in a decade.
The government banned the event on Sunday. On Monday a magistrate adjourned the party’s appeal against that decision until 4 p.m. (1400 GMT), when the demonstration had been due to end.
Authorities had clamped down on a similar gathering in Harare on Friday, which the MDC called off after police there rounded up its followers and dispersed them with batons and water cannon and tear gas, prompting many shops and businesses to close.
On Monday there were no witness reports of violence in Bulawayo, an MDC heartland, and activity in the city appeared normal. However disgruntled residents told a Reuters witness that they want things to change – they are tired of living in poverty.
“I came to town to get some money, but there’s no way of getting it because there’s police everywhere. There’s no food and I don’t know what to do because the shops that we normally buy at are closed off by police, now I don’t know what to do, we are poor here and life is very hard,” Frank Mathe said.
A taxi driver, Luke Ngwenya added that the protest does not make a difference to him because it would not end their poverty.
Large contingents of police patrolled on foot and in vehicles, setting up checkpoints on roads leading into the city as they searched cars and people for weapons, and cordoning off the MDC offices and the magistrates court.
In January, Bulawayo was the site of massive looting and destruction of property as protests against a steep rise in the price of fuel turned violent, triggering an army crackdown that killed more than a dozen people.
Those deaths compromised a pledge by Mnangagwa to put an end to the repressive political climate that characterized much of his predecessor Robert Mugabe’s 37 years in power.
The protest campaign, which the MDC intends to take to two other cities on Tuesday and Wednesday, is again casting a spotlight on that promise, a year after Mnangagwa was elected in a vote the party alleges was rigged.