Soldiers and police deployed in large numbers in Zimbabwe’s second city Bulawayo on Monday to enforce a ban on an anti-government demonstration, as the country’s main opposition party challenged that decision in court.
The street march was the second called in four days by the Movement for Democratic Change’s (MDC) as it looks to rally support for nationwide protests against President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government, which it accuses of repression and blames for the country’s worst economic crisis in a decade.
Authorities had also banned Friday’s gathering in Harare which the MDC then called off, aiming to avert bloodshed after police there rounded up its followers and dispersed them with batons and water cannon.
On Monday in Bulawayo, an MDC heartland, soldiers in trucks deployed in the city centre and nearby townships, witnesses said, while police patrolled on foot, horseback and in vehicles, also cordoning off the magistrates court.
Eight MDC officials, including its national chairwoman, were due to appear there on charges of publishing falsehoods, the party said. They were arrested on Saturday as they distributed mpamphlets urging residents to attend Monday’s march.
David Coltart, a Bulawayo lawyer and MDC senator, said magistrates were also scheduled to hear the party’s appeal against the ban.
“The law (used to ban the protest) is clearly unconstitutional and unjust but we have an obligation to comply because we are a peaceful organisation,” he told Reuters.