On Monday, January 24, former Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Nelson Chamisa announced the formation of Zimbabwe’s newest political party, Citizen Coalition for Change (CCC). Chamisa explained that he and his supporters had abandoned all things MDC Alliance and formed a new party and registered it with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.
The CCC has the color yellow and a new symbol: an index pointing up. Judging by the number of people who started wearing yellow from January 24 to date, it’s obvious that the holiday has been well received.
The positive reception of the new party was met with an equally negative reaction from the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) and the Zanu-PF militia, who assaulted civilians dressed in yellow clothes.
Here are some of the attacks that have been recorded:
On February 14, veteran activist and former MDC MP Tendai Biti, now CCC candidate in Harare East constituency, was stopped during a rally at Letombo Spar in Harare. The police refused to inform him and his lawyers of the charges against him. He was later released without being charged.
A few days later, on February 16, The alleged Biti campaign that his followers had been attacked for wearing yellow by thugs with iron bars. They reported the attack to Mabvuku Police Station in Harare.
On February 18, police were filmed beating screaming CCC members they had arrested in Harare CBD, allegedly for organizing a car rally. In another video, police officers and a man in civilian clothes holding a sjambok were filmed forcing CCC supporters to crawl on all fours.
CCC spokesman Fadzayi Mahere confirmed that police had arrested 13 CCC members and were holding them at Harare Central Police Station.
A day later, the 13 were taken to court handcuffed to each other. The way the police paraded them in front of the media in their handcuffs was a clear message to everyone that if you dare to support the CCC, you will be arrested and tortured.
Before they had a chance to apply for bail, the magistrate handling their case, Yeukai Nzuda, said she was tired and could not hear the case. It was a long weekend, which meant all 13 would be in jail until Tuesday.
This was taken as evidence of judicial capture as the magistrate apparently colluded with the police to keep political prisoners in custody without a fair hearing.
Upcoming elections will test Zanu-PF
On March 26, Zimbabwe will hold by-elections in 28 parliamentary constituencies with vacancies resulting from recalls, deaths and dismissals of MPs. In addition, 105 council seats are up for grabs. Political commentators describe the elections as “a dress rehearsal for the 2023 general election” (see a Sapes Trust election debate here), and it is clear that Zanu-PF is already scared.
On February 19, the CCC decided to organize a rally in Highfields to launch its mobilization for the next by-elections. Police responded to their notification with a list of instructions that sparked outrage among CCC supporters. Indeed, Zanu-PF had held rallies and received no similar restrictions.
For example, one of the instructions read: “It is strictly forbidden to bring people from other constituencies by bus.” Yet Zanu-PF had staged a rally in Epworth constituency a few days earlier and transported people from all over using state-owned Zupco buses.
The government was clearly in panic mode.
It was Chamisa’s first time addressing a rally as leader of the new CCC party. On the day of the rally, dubbed #YellowSunday on social media, police set up roadblocks and caused traffic jams in a bid to prevent people from attending the rally. Some people decided to walk and others cycled to the site. Despite attempts to prevent attendance, the stadium was full by the time Chamisa gave his speech.
Zimbabweans around the world also followed the rally on Facebook Live and some followed on Twitter Spaces. The turnout on social media was amazing despite the erratic internet service. NetBlocksa London-based organization that tracks internet disruptions and shutdowns, said the incident was “consistent with service slowing or throttling”.
The atmosphere on the ground was electric. The crowd sang and danced and when Chamisa took the stage the stadium thundered with cheers, whistling and screaming as young and old supported his new political party.
Sending a warning to President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, Chamisa said to loud applause, “A statement we will make today is that the CCC will be the next government in Zimbabwe!”
Zanu-PF attacks weekend rally
After that, it was unlikely that Zanu-PF would allow Chamisa to stage another rally without issue. As usual, on the morning of Saturday February 26, the CCC learned that the police were revoking their previously granted permission to hold a rally in Gokwe.
A letter signed by a chief superintendent, T Chikono, informed the organizing secretary of the CCC that they were prohibited from organizing the rally because the police would not have enough manpower to provide security during the gathering. They said it was because Mnangagwa was also holding a rally in the Midlands province at Kwekwe, 140 km from Gokwe.
The CCC, represented by human rights lawyer Obey Shava, immediately challenged the ban in court, where the ZRP lied to Judge Sylvia Chirau, saying they had not issued an order to stop the gathering. Based on this, the judge ruled that the only evidence she had before her was that the police had authorized the gathering and that the authorization stood.
However, when the CCC arrived in Gokwe, they were met with maximum force by the police. Surprisingly, the same police who claimed the rally had to be postponed because they had no manpower to provide security, had enough manpower to forcibly stop the rally. They fired water cannons and tear gas at supporters and unleashed dogs.
The crowd fled from the police but regrouped, resulting in a chase between the police and defiant mobs.
This challenge was unexpected as rural supporters are known to be terrified of the cruelty of Zanu-PF. That day they chose to defy the unjust order to disperse. The rally continued as supporters decided to follow Chamisa’s convoy.
While this was happening in Gokwe, 140 km away in Kwekwe, Zanu-PF was holding its own rally without any interference from the police. Vice President Chiwenga gave a speech in which he told Zanu-PF supporters that there was nothing the CCC would not achieve because they, Zanu-PF, would “crush them like lice” .
Many Zimbabweans condemned the speech, saying Chiwenga was ordering Zanu-PF supporters to unleash violence against the CCC. Human rights activists said it was unacceptable for the vice president to use such inflammatory language.
This Saturday evening, CCC youths pitching tents in Chitungwiza constituency for a rally the following day were violently attacked by Zanu-PF militia.
Despite the attacks, the rally went ahead. On the day of the rally, Zanu-PF youths abducted a CCC youth on his way to buy refreshments and beat him with whips and metal rods. They then threw him on the side of the road and he had to be hospitalized.
On the same day, the CCC had planned another rally at the Mbizo complex in Kwekwe. When the rally began, small groups of suspected Zanu-PF youths tried to disrupt it. They tried several times to stir up trouble but the mob managed to stop them each time.
When Chamisa took the stage, a group of men carrying rocks, machetes, spears and Molotov cocktails swooped down on the crowd. Chamisa’s security quickly took him away, but not before he told his followers, “Please stay calm, don’t be violent.
The militiamen threw stones at the CCC supporters and attacked them with spears and machetes, which led to the hospitalization of several people. A CCC supporter, Mboneni Ncube, was stabbed and later died of his injuries.
The level of violence has sent shockwaves through Zimbabwe as the public sees people using spears and machetes against helpless citizens peacefully fighting for change.
On Monday, police said they arrested 16 Zanu-PF youths responsible for the violence. They said they were apprehended while hiding in Jersey Gardens, about a mile from the scene of the violence. Jersey Gardens is a property believed to be owned by recently sacked State Security Minister Owen Mudha Ncube. The 16 youths were charged with murder.
While it’s encouraging that the police arrested the suspects quickly, it’s unclear why they didn’t do anything to stop the violence in the first place. The day before, the same police officers had fired tear gas, water cannons and dogs at a peaceful crowd, but faced with a violent confrontation, they chose to let the attacks go ahead. SM/MC