Violent clashes mar Sikhala trial. . . as MDC supporters clash with police

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VIOLENCE rocked Masvingo yesterday after angry MDC supporters fought running battles with police in the normally laid-back town — where the party’s deputy chairperson Job Sikhala was appearing in the High Court on treason charges, the Daily News reports.

Judge Garainesu Mawadze subsequently acquitted Sikhala of the serious charges of subverting a constitutionally-elected government, after he upheld the Zengeza West legislator’s application for exception to the accusations that the burly politician was facing.

However, it was ahead of the court ruling that chaos ensued, after police barricaded Robert Mugabe Road — the street where the High Court is located in the town — thereby blocking MDC supporters from attending yesterday’s court session in solidarity with Sikhala.

In the end, police had to resort to firing teargas and water cannons to disperse the large group of agitated opposition supporters, who fought back by throwing an assortment of missiles at the law enforcement agents.

The MDC supporters — who were also in the city to mark the second anniversary of the death of the party’s founding leader, Morgan Tsvangirai on Valentine’s Day in 2018 — had until the ugly skirmishes been in a festive and buoyant mood.

And singing a popular tune, “Tiri vana vaMorgan Tsvangirai, toita musarinya” (we are Tsvangirai’s children, and we will not be repressed), the supporters strongly resisted police orders to leave the court premises — which they deemed provocative and unnecessary.

MDC deputy organising secretary Happymore Chidziva — who was among the senior party officials who were present at the court, accused police of working to close down democratic space in the country.

“We are not going to be silenced by the police. People are here to support their vice chairperson.

“This is a clear sign that our police are being used by some evil people … they are tainting their image.

“This must stop because if this kind of behaviour continues, we are going to respond,” Chidziva warned.

Sikhala’s lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, told the Daily News soon after the hearing of the case that her client’s application for exception to the charges had been upheld by the court.

“The judge found that there was nothing in the utterances that meant that he was going to remove (President Emmerson) Mnangagwa through unconstitutional means.

“It (the court) said by removing Mnangagwa, Sikhala could have been referring to impeachment, which is allowed in terms of the law.

“The judge said the State must not put a spin to the words that were uttered. The words must speak for themselves. He said the Constitution also allowed political discourse,” Mtetwa said.

The Zengeza West legislator was arrested in October last year on charges of subverting a constitutionally-elected government, after he told his party’s rally in Bikita East that he would work to overthrow Mnangagwa’s administration before the next elections due in 2023.

On February 3 this year, he filed for an application for exception — arguing that the utterances that he had made at the political rally at Mandadzaka Business Centre did not constitute a crime.

“My client indeed made the said utterances, but they were directed to President Mnangagwa and not his government.

“President Mnangagwa is separable from his government, as provided for in the Constitution.

“The accused, as a Member of Parliament, has the privilege of passing a vote of no confidence on the president and his utterances were reflective of such privileges in Parliament, not by any means to be implemented violently,” Mtetwa said in the application.

However, prosecutor Tawanda Zvekare had opposed the application — arguing that Sikhala had insisted that there was going to be war on Mnangagwa.

“According to Section 89 of the Constitution, …Mnangagwa is the head of State and government and Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces, and that is inseparable,” he said.

The confrontation between MDC supporters and the police in Masvingo yesterday is the latest in a series of skirmishes between the opposition party and law enforcement agents.

In December last year, Chamisa claimed that he had escaped death by a whisker after police in Marondera allegedly fired both “live and rubber bullets” at him — forcing him to scurry for cover and abandon a tree-planting programme at Dombotombo Clinic in the farming town that is situated about 72km east of Harare.

Although police insisted that they had only used teargas to disperse the gathered opposition supporters, top MDC officials insisted that live ammunition had been fired into the crowd.

A month earlier, police brutally assaulted opposition supporters who had gathered to listen to Chamisa’s Hope of the Nation Address at Richard Morgan Tsvangirai House in central Harare.

Hordes of police officers in riot gear pounced on the assembled MDC supporters, which resulted in a terrible stampede as police also teargassed the crowd and indiscriminately beat up even journalists and passers-by who were going about their normal business in the capital city.

The chaos even saw ordinary Zimbabweans standing in bank queues to get scarce cash being assaulted by police — who appeared hell-bent on clearing Harare’s Central Business District by any means necessary.

 

Tendai Kamhungira and Blessings Mashaya

STAFF WRITERS

 

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