New Constitution:Security forces lay siege in Matabeleland to suppress devolution call


Bulawayo – Zimbabwean armed security forces and secret services agents have been deployed in the Matabeleland Provinces in an “undeclared State of emergency” geared to suppress inclusion of devolution of power in the new constitution reform process under way, sources in the coalition government revealed this morning.

The faltering new Zimbabwe constitution process which is under way is one of the requirements stipulated by the Global Political Agreement, signed in September 2008 between Zimbabwe’s three main political parties: the MDC, a smaller group of the MDC led by Arthur Mutambara, and ZANU-PF led by Mugabe, president in the current coalition government.

With the re-emergency of ZAPU led by former ZIPRA Intelligence Supremo Dumiso Dabengwa, the political dynamics have changed and the fragile peace pact that has existed for years as a result of the Unity Accord signed between two protagonists Robert Mugabe and the late Joshua Nkomo is now under threat.

In the region, armed soldiers and police officers are making their presence felt by engaging in unusually busy patrols, and road blocks mounted in urban areas and highway. Armed helicopters and Airforce jet fighters have been making sporadic sorties in both Mateleland North and South Provinces.

Heavy artillery military vehicles have been spotted in the streets. Bars and community gatherings have been swamped by secret service agents.

In the streets of Bulawayo, members of the army and police have been accused of harassing and intimidating innocent city residents in what is being called an undeclared ‘state of emergency’.

According to the Matabeleland Civil Society Consortium the police have been rounding up, beating and arresting people in Bulawayo. But while police officials say they are just tightening security, the Consortium says people are living in fear as a result of the police’s actions.

The ‘tightened security’ has come in the aftermath of a shooting earlier this month during an armed robbery, which resulted in the death of a police chief and many in the region now think the Senior police officer was killed by secret agents in order to have a reason to deploy State forces of terror.

Some media reports say the senior police officer was gunned down by rival Zanu PF factions.

The death saw Defence Force Commander Constantine Chiwenga announce that the army would be sent into Bulawayo to deal with the scourge of armed robberies in the city. The result has been a clamp down on the public and reports of police brutality.

The Civil Society Consortium has since challenged the police to come out in the open and declare that Bulawayo is now under a ‘curfew’. The group’s Dumisani Nkomo said it was as if Bulawayo was under a "state of emergency or curfew" which has not been declared.

"If the police want to impose a curfew for the purposes of hunting down criminals, then they should do so and if that is the real intention I do not see any law-abiding citizen objecting to that," he said. "What is obviously wrong is for the police to work as if there is a curfew when they have not declared any."

A Bulawayo correspondent for SW Radio Lionel Saungweme agreed that there was an undeclared curfew, explaining that road blocks are being set up every evening on the main roads leading out of the city. Saungweme said the public are being heavily monitored and some have even been forced to undergo strip searches on the streets. There have also been reports of assault at the hands of the police, if anyone tries to resist being stopped and searched.

Saungweme continued by saying that there is widespread fear that the army’s deployment to Bulawayo is a "decoy," ahead of possible elections next year. He said that the public are afraid that the machinations of violence, seen during the 2008 election period, are beginning to re-emerge.

There is also concern, because of the history of genocide in Matabeleland. "There is a lot of fear that this could be the second wave of the Gukurahundi, because this is how it all started originally," Saungweme said.

The outreach process began early in 2010 and is expected to be wrapped up by the end of September 2010. But since about May 2010, in an operation dubbed "Vhara Muromo", or Shut Your Mouth, members of the youth militia aligned to ZANU-PF have allegedly been warning villagers to either shut up or support the party’s views on the new constitution.

ZANU-PF wants an existing draft constitution, commonly referred to as the Kariba Draft, to be adopted. It places no limit on the number of presidential terms, and gives the president wide-ranging powers.

Mugabe has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980 and the new constitution will replace the Lancaster House Agreement, which has been amended 19 times. The new constitution, if approved in a national referendum, will open the way to elections in 2011.

John Makumbe, a Harare-based political scientist and university lecturer, told IRIN he feared a referendum would lead to violence "just as we saw in 2000, when the rejection of the referendum saw the government of Mugabe unleashing soldiers on civilians".

The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, an umbrella body for NGOs promoting human rights, said the victimization of participants was rife. "The violent disruptions by suspected ZANU-PF supporters, and the ensuing lethargy by the police in stopping the violence," the coalition noted in a statement.

"The Harare disruptions give credence to earlier allegations of intimidation and violence in rural areas, particularly Mashonaland and Manicaland provinces."

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe government has approached South African authorities to smoke out and close down South African based Zimbabwean community internet radio station Radio Mthwakazi FM, the brainchild of a group of Johannesburg based Zimbabweans from the country’s western region of Matabeleland.

The radio station was officially launched in Hillbrow towards the end of March this year.

The Zimbabwe government has likened the radio station to the 1992, Radio Rwanda station which was first used in directly promoting the killing of Tutsi in Bugesera, south of the national capital Kigali.Radio Rwanda repeatedly broadcast a communiqué warning that Hutu in Bugesera would be attacked by Tutsi, a message used by local officials to convince Hutu that they needed to attack first. Led by soldiers, Hutu civilians and the Interahamwe attacked and killed hundreds of Tutsi.

"We are concerned about the erosion of the history, arts and culture especially in the region of Matabeleland and this radio station aims to revive that and promote our region," said Gerald Ngulube, Mthwakazi FM station’s Global Director, and he is also its South African chairman.

Currently doing pre-recorded shows, the station broadcasts in mainly Ndebele and Khalanga, but said it wants to expand to cover all other languages that are spoken in the Matabeleland region. The region currently has poor reception of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, which has a monopoly to broadcast in the country.

Most people in Matabeleland listen to South African and Botswana radio stations.

Zimbabwe is required, under the Global Political Agreement (GPA), to open up airwaves to allow more players in the industry. However the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ), which is supposed to be the regulatory body, still has to be properly constituted. The board announced early this year by Publicity and Information Minister Webster Shamu, was rejected by the Movement for Democratic Change party. The board had included Tafataona Mahoso, previously chairman of the defunct Media Information Commission (MIC), which closed a number of newspapers and resulted in several journalists losing their jobs.