Security presence intensifies ahead of anti-Mugabe march

THE loyal ZANU PF security forces intensified their presence in Harare on Monday, ahead of a planned public protest against the Robert Mugabe regime.\r\n

Heavily armed soldiers and riot police were seen arriving in military vehicles in the city centre near Harare gardens on Monday, while water-cannons were also seen on the streets. The increased security presence is widely believed to be an attempt to discourage participation in a public protest, which has been scheduled for Tuesday.

As violence and intimidation continue to sweep across the country, support for protest action has slowly begun to grow, with the public being encouraged via an online campaign dubbed the ‘Million Citizen March’. Plans of the march are being circulated by email and on the social networking website Facebook, calling for demonstrations to start on Tuesday. The protests are set to start at the Harare gardens and the public are being encouraged to keep up the action, spreading the protest countrywide, until Robert Mugabe resigns.

The planned protests are being driven by recent events in Egypt and Tunisia, where civil uprising has led to the fall of the oppressive administrations in both countries. Similar protest action is also underway in Libya, where ruler Muammar Gaddafi has been in power for over 40 years. But at the moment he is clinging on, using brutality and with the help of mercenaries and troops sent by Robert Mugabe.

The events in North Africa have, to a large extent, been coordinated by online campaigns through Facebook and Twitter, and as dictatorships continue to fall it is widely hoped that Zimbabweans can achieve the same results.

Veteran journalist Angus Shaw told SW Radio Africa on Monday from Harare that tensions are high ahead of the planned protest. But he called it a “wait and see” situation, explaining that Zimbabwe “does not have the same large social networking community as in North Africa.” He said that it is mainly business people in Harare who are talking about the protest, voicing concerns about how a protest, and any police crackdown, will affect their operations.

“We have seen riot police today (Monday) so the authorities clearly are aware that there is a protest being planned and they will want to try and nip it in the bud if it goes ahead. So business people are particularly worried about trouble,” Shaw said.

Shaw continued by saying that businesses are more worried that ZANU PF members will be bussed in by their hundreds on Wednesday, for Mugabe’s ‘two million signature’ rally. The rally, also set to take place in Harare, is to launch Mugabe’s anti-sanctions campaign, and is expected to see thousands of ZANU PF members massing in the capital. Shaw explained that this is a very real threat to businesses.

“There will be many ZANU PF youths and there is the potential that things will flare up and business will be looted. So they are to ready to close on Wednesday,” Shaw said.

Mugabe’s campaign is an attempt to get two million signatures calling for the end of Western imposed targeted sanctions, against him and key members of the regime. The campaign, which is only being officially launched on Wednesday, has been in full swing for several weeks, with many people being forced by ZANU PF militia to add their names. Mugabe meanwhile this week threatened to take over foreign owned companies, including Nestle and Zimplats, in retaliation for the Western ‘sanctions’.

Support meanwhile is growing for Tuesday’s ‘Million Citizen March’, with solidarity demonstrations set to get underway in both South Africa and the UK on Tuesday. The UK based Zimbabwe Vigil will be holding a demonstration outside the Zimbabwean Embassy in London, coinciding with the Harare march. At the same time, in Cape Town, refugee rights group PASSOP has organised a demonstration outside parliament, calling for South Africa to condemn the violence and intimidation by ZANU PF.

PASSOP’s Anthony Muteti told SW Radio Africa on Monday that the protest is also in solidarity with the 45 activists who were arrested over a week ago, for watching footage of the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions.

“We are demonstrating against the unacceptable detention of these 45 activists in Harare by the ZANU PF regime. We believe that South Africa is seen by the continent as a role model, it is a key player in solving the Zimbabwean situation and it must once and for all step up to the plate and make demands based on the will of the Zimbabwean people,” Muteti said.