DESPERATE to thwart a joint protest by 18 opposition political parties that are demanding electoral reform, the government yesterday imposed a two-week ban on demonstrations within Harare’s central business district (CBD).
By Wongai Zhangazha/Kudzai Kuwaza
Through Statutory Instrument 101a of 2016 gazetted yesterday, the Zimbabwe Republic Police, through the Officer Commanding Harare Central District, Chief Superintendent Newbert Saunyama, banned protests from today to September 16.
Douglas Mwonzora, a legal team representative of the National Election Reform Agenda (Nera), a loose grouping of the opposition parties, yesterday said a demonstration which was scheduled for today has been rescheduled to September 17.
“The regulatory authority, believing on reasonable grounds that the powers conferred by Section 26 of the Public Order and Security Act (Chapter 11:17) will not be sufficient to prevent public disorder being occasioned by the holding of processions or public demonstrations or any class thereof in the Harare Central Police District, hereby issues this order prohibiting, for a period of two weeks from Friday the 2nd September, 2016 to Friday 16th September, the holding of all public demonstrations in the Harare Central Police District,” reads the Statutory Instrument.
Earlier this week, in a letter dated August 31, Saunyama refused to grant Nera permission to demonstrate, suggesting that the parties instead send representatives to hand in their petition to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission offices.
A leading lawyer and researcher, Derek Matyszak, said the regulatory authority failed to give adequate notice for Nera to respond to the ban as stated in Section 27 of the Public Order and Security Act (Posa).
Section 27(2)(b) of Posa states that: “Whenever it is practicable to do so, before acting in terms of subsection (1), a regulating authority shall (a) cause notice of the proposed order to be published in the (Government) Gazette and in a newspaper circulating in the area concerned and to be given to any person whom the regulating authority believes is likely to organise a public demonstration that will be prohibited by the proposed order; and (b) afford all interested persons a reasonable opportunity to make representations in the matter. ”
Matyszak said: “The regulatory authority failed to afford a reasonable opportunity to interested parties to respond to the notice before they issued it. Instead, Nera was told at the last minute despite that the police had a full week to inform them.
“There are no reasonable grounds to ban demonstrations if the police provide necessary security and do not provoke people who will be protesting, there will be peaceful demonstrations. The ban is not constitutional as it infringes on Section 59 of the Zimbabwean constitution which gives people the right to demonstrate peacefully.”
Constitutional lawyer Lovemore Madhuku said given the violent nature of the last demonstrations, the government was within its rights to ban demonstrations within the CBD.
“None of the rights in the constitution are absolute. Given that the ban is within a limited period and within a confined space shows the government was properly advised and it will survive scrutiny in an independent and reasonable court,” Madhuku said. “There is nothing magical about the CBD. There is no way a demonstrator can be heard to say that their protest only makes sense if it is in the CBD. Around the world demonstrations are held outside the CBD. Demonstrations are just an expression, but if you make a point it does not mean everything else has to stop.”