MARONDERA – Thousands of Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) supporters rallied in Marondera on Saturday in defiance of a court ban, two weeks ahead of crucial by-elections.
Dressed in their yellow party colours, the crowd gathered outside Rudhaka Stadium, 70 kilometres east of Harare, after dozens of anti-riot police officers sealed off the venue.
The crowd came to hear an address by CCC leader, Nelson Chamisa, the leading rival to President Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose Zanu PF party has ruled the country since independence in 1980.
General elections are due in 2023. The by-elections in 28 parliamentary seats and 121 municipal races are seen as a crucial dry run for next year’s watershed poll.
Chamisa’s supporters have complained of growing repression by police.
A court banned Saturday’s rally on the grounds that organisers had not given long enough notice.
Unrest at a CCC rally in Kwekwe last month left one person dead and 22 injured.
Chamisa’s arrival drew wild cheers as police struggled to control the swelling crowd.
Chamisa accused the state of clamping down on his campaign.
“We are here for a peaceful gathering. We gave notice and that is why we are here. There is no justification for their behaviour,” Chamisa said.
Having failed to overturn the ban on the rally, he called on supporters to go home.
“I don’t want politics of bloodshed, that is why I came here to address you. I don’t want you to be hurt,” he said.
“What they don’t know is that we have won already.”
Hundreds of armed riot police then dispersed the crowd without incident.
Mnangagwa came to power in 2017 after the death of longtime ruler Robert Mugabe. He promised reforms but Zimbabwe remains stricken by economic crisis and what the opposition says is the abuse of state institutions like the police to curtail democratic freedoms.
Over the past two weeks, Zimbabwe has suffered a spate of political violence.
It came after vice president Constantino Chiwenga likened the opposition to lice which should be “crushed”. – AFP