Harare - Youth from the opposition MDC-T were involved in running battles with the police in Harare’s central business district on Wednesday, protesting against the “unfair” electoral conditions set by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), as the country gears towards next year’s elections.
Police had to use water canons, batons and teargas to disperse hordes of protesting youth.
There were many armed riot police officers positioned on numerous strategic points in the capital ready to pounce on the protesters, with one police truck right at the front door of the MDC-T headquarters at Harvest House.
The demonstration, organised by the MDC-T youth assembly, started mid-morning, with leader Happymore Chidziva and secretary-general Lovemore Chinoputsa marching from the party’s headquarters towards ZEC's offices.
They vowed to march in the capital “with or without” police clearance, demanding the levelling of the electoral playing field, accusing ZEC of being manipulated by the ruling Zanu PF.
On Monday, Chidziva declared: “This is a march to force ZEC to adhere to constitutionalism, to force the commission to operate independently, to make sure that voter registration centres are distributed fairly and on neutral grounds. We are also making it a point that we demonstrate against structural and physical violence associated with elections as well as calling on ZEC to accept the diaspora vote.”
As scores of people joined the march on Wednesday, police clashed with the crowd including onlookers and passersby, forcing people to scurry for cover with police in pursuit.
The protesters fought back, throwing missiles at the police, resulting in most shops closing their doors and business coming to a halt, particularly in the central and western side of downtown Harare.
Six people were reportedly arrested and taken to Harare Central Police Station.
Recently, ZEC said all urban voters required proof of residence in order to register, but the opposition supporters have argued that this would disenfranchise the voters, since most of them were tenants.
The opposition parties want ZEC to scrap that condition.
ZEC said that 9 600 voter registration centres would be set up in the country, and Harare and Bulawayo will have 700 and 400 centres, respectively.
Manicaland will have 1 310; Mashonaland Central 870; Mashonaland East 1 135; Mashonaland West 1 220; Masvingo 1 265; Matabeleland North 850; Matabeleland South 640; and Midlands 1 390.
On Monday, ZEC chairperson Justice Rita Makarau said the electoral body would not be cowed into submission by street protests.
She said their distribution pattern was largely informed by a scientific methodology and that there was no sinister motive to shortchange the opposition.
“We will not stay in the way of their demonstrations. It is their democratic right to demonstrate,” she said at the time.
She added that they would continue to have dialogue with political parties on their concerns.