HARARE – Police were accused of committing perjury on Saturday after misleading a judge that they had not banned a Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) rally in Gokwe.
Police deployed water cannons summoned from 300km away in Bulawayo and also fired volleys of tear gas as they battled to disperse thousands of determined CCC supporters.
In the end, police gave up but CCC leader Nelson Chamisa was forced to cancel his rally. Instead, he decided to go on a walkabout and drove around the town swarmed by thousands of cheering supporters.
Police had initially cleared the rally, while imposing strict conditions including limiting the number of people at the rally to just 100. Police cited Covid-19 regulations which have been repeatedly breached by the ruling Zanu PF party and its leader, President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
But in an about turn, police issued a prohibition order on the eve of the rally. They informed the CCC that there was another rally in Kwekwe, 140km away, being addressed by Mnangagwa, and they feared supporters of the two parties could clash. Police said they had no manpower to keep the peace.
The CCC filed an urgent application at the High Court seeking to interdict the police from stopping their rally. In court, the Zimbabwe Republic Police’s lawyers denied issuing a prohibition order – communicated to the CCC’s organising secretary Amos Chibaya over the phone by Commissioner Winston Muza, the officer commanding Midlands province. They also denied any knowledge of Commissioner Muza.
“Maybe, they’re no longer interested in proceeding with their own rally,” the ZRP’s lawyer told Justice Sylvia Chirau.
It was only towards the end of the hearing that CCC lawyer Obey Shava began receiving images from Gokwe of police dispersing CCC supporters, and crucially a stamped prohibition order signed by Chief Superintendent T. Chikono, the officer commanding police in Gokwe district directing the CCC to “defer your by-elections campaign launch to another date.”
Shava told ZimLive that when he tried to introduce the fresh evidence, “it was just brushed aside.”
He added: “The judge was told that the rally was never cancelled. They referred to the letter dated February 22, 2022, as the only official communication sent to CCC. They denied the phone conversation between Chibaya and Muza. They said they don’t have such a person within ZRP.
“The conclusion was that CCC was dragging its feet when there was an assurance from the police that the rally wouldn’t be interrupted.”
In the end, the judge refused to issue the order sought by the CCC.
She ruled that she had only seen “proof that the police have authorised the rally”, adding: “That authorisation has not been withdrawn or cancelled. That authorisation remains extant.”
Shava said the ZRP and its legal team perjured themselves.
CCC spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere said: “Police misrepresented that they had no manpower to police the rally. What’s clear is that the manpower is there. However, they’re on an unconstitutional mission to block the citizens from lawfully gathering.”
Chamisa is set to address a rally in Kwekwe on Sunday, drumming up support for the party’s candidates ahead of the March 26 by-elections in 28 National Assembly constituencies and 129 municipal seats.