AS political activities heighten ahead of this year’s general elections, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) has defended its bans on some political gatherings, saying such decisions would have been taken on the grounds that the actors would have failed to comply with the law.
The Nelson Chamisa-led Citizens’ Coalition for Change has since its introduction last year accused the country’s law enforcement agency of taking a partisan approach in giving the green-light to the ruling party while barring the opposition.
Chamisa told The NewsHawks in January that the opposition CCC has had 62 of its meetings banned since the party’s formation a year ago, in what analysts have described as growing intolerance by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration.
Zimbabwe is expected to hold general elections by the end of August this year at a time political temperatures are slowly rising.
National police spokesperson Paul Nyathi (pictured) told a media engagement meeting convened by the Media Institute of Southern Africa-Harare Chapter that some parties are not complying with the law.
Critics say the police have always given Zanu PF the nod to hold its political meetings, sometimes at short notices, yet the opposition has not been treated similarly. They say while the constitution guarantees freedoms of assembly and association, opposition meetings have often been frowned at.
“These are the ones who enforce Mopa [Maintenance of Peace and Order Act] when it comes to notification. People always think that when there is a notification, then they think everything is there,” Nyathi said.
“No. You also need to understand that once you have put in your notifications, you have to work with these regulating authorities (Dispols) in terms of the security. There is difference between notifying the regulating authority and complying with the provisions of the law, where people sometimes exaggerate issues, where people sometimes they don’t tell the truth. He just thinks that the moment he notifies, everything starts and ends there.”
The ZRP has eight districts in the capital city, each led by a chief superintendent known as a Dispol. They enforce the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act.
The government replaced the Public Order and Security Act with the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act ostensibly as part of its political reforms, but critics doubt the letter and spirit of the law in opening up the democratic space.
The Act requires that: “The convener shall not later than seven days before the date on which a procession or public demonstration is to be held, give notice of the procession or public demonstration in writing signed by him or her to the regulating authority for the district in which the procession or public demonstration is to be held; five days before the date on which a public meeting is to be held, give notice of the public meeting in writing signed by him or her to the regulating authority for the district in which the public meeting is to be held:
“Provided that — if the convener is not able to reduce a proposed convening notice to writing a regulating authority shall at the convener’s request do it for him or her; during an election period the period of notice referred to in paragraph (b) shall be three days.”
The convening notice shall contain at least the following information — the name, address and telephone or cellphone and electronic mail numbers, if any, of the convener and his or her deputy; the name of the organisation on whose behalf the gathering is convened or, if it is not so convened, a statement that it is convened by the convener; the purpose of the gathering; the time, duration and date of the gathering; the place where the gathering is to be held and the anticipated number of participants.
It also requires the proposed number and, where possible, the names of the marshals who will be appointed by the convener, and how the marshals will be distinguished from the other participants in the gathering.
In the case of a procession or public demonstration, the law requires, among other stipulations, that the organiser notify the regulatory authority on manner in which the participants will be transported to the place of assembly and from the point of dispersal; and the number and types of vehicles, if any, which are to form part of the procession.