Riot police in Zimbabwe fired teargas and beat demonstrators on Friday during a crackdown on opposition supporters who have taken to Harare’s streets despite a protest ban.
Scores of people gathered in the capital’s Africa Unity Square to demonstrate against the country’s worsening economy in defiance of the ban, which was upheld by a court on Friday.
Supporters of Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) sang songs condemning police brutality as officers fired teargas to disperse them.
Police also cornered a group of protesters and beat them with batons, with one woman carried into a Red Cross ambulance.
“People were just singing, people were happy, peacefully. Then they saw the police coming — they were encircling people, they were actually surrounding the supporters then they came closer to us and started beating people,” a 35-year-old protester who gave her name as Achise told reporters.
She also claimed the police beat “an old woman, I heard she was seriously injured.”
“This is worse than during colonial times,” said a man who declined to be identified. “We aren’t armed but the police just beat us while we were sitting on the street”.
‘Long-suffering people’ –
Dozens of police and three water cannons were involved in running street battles with protesters in the square, which overlooks the country’s parliament and is where thousands gathered in November 2017 calling for then-President Robert Mugabe to step down during a military-led coup.
Friday’s protests went ahead after opposition plans for large-scale marches were banned by police late Thursday.
An MDC attempt to challenge the ban in court was then rejected.
“The court has said the demonstration should be off,” MDC spokesman Nkululeko Sibanda told reporters.
The party’s Vice President Tendai Biti told reporters outside the high court that “we differ respectfully with the ruling”.
“The fascist regime has denied the right for Zimbabweans to demonstrate,” said Biti.
“There is no difference between (President Emmerson) Mnangagwa and Mugabe. We jumped from the frying pan into the fire after the November coup,” Biti told reporters outside the court.
Mnangagwa took over as President from long-time autocrat Mugabe and went on to win disputed July 2018 elections, vowing to revive Zimbabwe’s economy.
But Zimbabweans say things have gone from bad to worse, with people facing shortages of basic goods and skyrocketing prices.
Five million face ‘starvation’ –
Around five million people — almost a third of the country’s 16 million population — are in need of aid and at least half of them are on the cusp of “starvation”, the World Food Programme (WFP) said this month.
Armed police had put up barricades across the city early Friday in a bid to deter protesters, turning back cars on streets leading to the MDC’s party headquarters.
Long queues of traffic formed as the police searched cars and commuter buses for weapons. Riot police also searched pedestrians.
The government, through the Information Ministry’s Twitter account, described the attacks on protesters as “a few skirmishes” adding that “normalcy has returned to Harare”.
“Security remains on high alert and deployed to ensure safety of the citizenry and security of property,” it said.
Local rights group, Heal Zimbabwe said in a series of tweets that police had rounded up scores of people in several of the city’s townships and surrounding neighbourhoods.
At least six opposition and rights activists were abducted and tortured by unidentified assailants in the days leading up to the protest, according to the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, a coalition of 21 human rights groups.
Another MDC spokesman, Daniel Molokele vowed;
“We are not backing down, we are going forward, the people of Zimbabwe are tired, they are fed up they want to end this long suffering so we are proceeding with the marches for a free Zimbabwe.”
Friday’s protests are the first since rallies in January against Mnangagwa’s decision to hike fuel prices that ended in deadly clashes with troops.
At least 17 people were killed and scores wounded after the army used force, including live ammunition, to end the demonstrations.
Traditional rulers demand customary rituals for burial of Robert Mugabe
Once Mugabe’s remains were returned to Zvimba on Monday, traditional leaders demanded the burial remain in line with local rites
As public wakes for late Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe have drawn to a close, traditional chiefs are demanding the body be buried according to spiritual traditions.
Those requests have been part of a dispute over the final burial of Mugabe, who died September 6 almost two years after a coup ended his increasingly autocratic 37-year rule.
He died during a medical trip to Singapore aged 95, leaving Zimbabweans torn over the legacy of a man who some still laud for his role as a colonial-era liberation hero.
Mugabe’s burial has already been caught up in a dispute between his family — who wanted to bury him at his rural homestead Zvimba — and the government, which pushed for the body to rest at a national monument in the capital.
They finally agreed Mugabe would be buried at the National Heroes Acre monument, in about 30 days, once a mausoleum was built for him.
But Mugabe was a non-practising chief in his homestead, and the burial feud has highlighted the spiritual beliefs, superstitions and rituals surrounding deaths of traditional leaders in parts of Zimbabwe.
Once Mugabe’s remains were returned to Zvimba on Monday, traditional leaders demanded the burial remain in line with local rites.
One of the Zvimba chiefs, Raphael Zvikaramba, said they had “so far” accepted the government’s proposal, but refused to comment on the details.
“(Zvimba) chiefs are buried in caves and the burial is secretly conducted at night,” Mugabe’s nephew Dominic Matibiri told reporters, standing outside his late uncle’s rural house.
‘Not just a president’ –
A prominent Zimbabwean traditional healer, Benjamin Burombo Jnr, detailed the cultural beliefs and superstition surrounding the deaths and funerals of chiefs.
“When a chief such as Mugabe dies, he is not a person that can be buried at Heroes Acre, that is forbidden. He should be buried in a cave,” Burombo told reporters.
“Mugabe was not just a president, but he was the embodiment of the spirit of Kaguvi,” he added, referring to one of Zimbabwe’s revered spirit mediums and pre-colonial nationalist leader.
When a chief died, often his body “would be dried”, his teeth “extracted” and his finger and toenails “ripped off”, Burombo said.
He said the body would then be wrapped in skin hides before burial, and could even be swapped with a token such as a goat’s head to be buried instead.
“You can build that monument, but it doesn’t mean that is where the remains of Mugabe will be buried… it’s just for people to continue remembering him.”
Mugabe grew up Catholic and was educated by Jesuits. But according to Burombo, he still followed “traditional norms and practices” despite “going to church”.
Exaggerating the mystery –
Mugabe’s remains currently lie in his childhood village of Kutama, in Zvimba district, about 90 kilometres west of Harare.
During a mass held in his honour, Priest Emmanuel Ribeiro — a former acquaintance — said the former President “was secretive and private” about his beliefs.
Retired sociology professor Claude Mararike told reporters the secrecy surrounding the funerals of traditional chiefs had “long vanished”.
He said that in the past, a death would only be revealed days or even weeks after burial.
“Very few people knew where the chief was buried,” Mararike said. “There were caves where a particular clan normally buried their own chiefs.”
But Mararike said that long-standing political tensions between the family and government “might have precipitated” the discord and mystery surrounding the funeral.
Mugabe’s family are still bitter over the role current President Emmerson Mnangagwa played in his ouster.
A former guerrilla who fought alongside Mugabe against colonial forces, Mnangagwa was fired as first Vice President in 2017. Mugabe had branded him a “traitor”.
Soon after, protesters took to the streets and military officers pressured Mugabe to step down in what was widely seen as a struggle between Mnangagwa’s faction and loyalists to Mugabe’s wife Grace inside the ruling ZANU-PF party.
“There obviously was quite a lot of anger among the Zvimba people on how their son was removed from office,” said Mararike.
“The late President Mugabe might have said something before he died,” he added referring to how he wanted to be buried, “but what he really said we don’t know”.
South Africa apologises to Nigeria after xenophobic attacks
Buhari and Ramaphosa are expected to meet at a state visit in South Africa next month
A South African envoy expressed the country’s “sincerest apologies” to Nigeria on Monday, after a wave of anti-migrant attacks swept through Johannesburg and surrounding cities in recent weeks, fuelling diplomatic tensions.
A meeting with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in the capital Abuja was held to convey President Cyril Ramaphosa’s “sincere apologies about the incident that has recently transpired in South Africa,” the special envoy, Jeff Radebe, told reporters.
“The incident does not represent what we stand for,” he said, adding that South African police would “leave no stone unturned, that those involved must be brought to book.”
In a statement after the meeting, Nigeria’s presidency said “President Buhari responded to profuse apologies from the South African president, pledging that relationship between the two countries will be solidified.”
Johannesburg and surrounding areas were rocked by a series of deadly attacks on foreigners in recent weeks, with many directed against Nigerian-owned businesses and properties.
At least 12 people were killed in the violence that left hundreds of shops destroyed.
No Nigerians were killed according to South African authorities but the violence led to condemnation across Africa, particularly in Nigeria, fuelling diplomatic tensions between the continent’s two leading economies.
The violence also prompted reprisal attacks against South African firms in Nigeria and the temporary closing of South Africa’s diplomatic missions in Lagos and Abuja.
Last week, almost 200 Nigerian migrants were repatriated back to Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, following the unrest.
At least 400 more are expected to return out of some 100,000 Nigerians estimated by the government to reside in South Africa.
Buhari and Ramaphosa are expected to meet at a state visit in South Africa next month.
Robert Mugabe: Family agrees to burial at Zimbabwe’s national monument
His family and President Emmerson Mnangagwa had disagreed over where and when he would be buried
Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s family and the government on Friday said he would be buried in about a month after they agreed to entomb him at a monument for national heroes in Harare.
Mugabe died in Singapore last week, aged 95, leaving Zimbabweans deeply divided over the legacy of a leader once lauded as an anti-colonial guerrilla hero, but whose 37-year iron-fisted rule ended in a coup in 2017.
His family and President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, a former Mugabe ally who turned against him, had been at odds over where and when he would be buried after his body returned home on Wednesday from Singapore.
On Friday, they agreed he would be buried at the National Heroes Acre, but the final ceremony will only take place in 30 days after a new mausoleum is built for Mugabe.
“The government, the chiefs, the traditional leaders went to the Heroes Acre they showed each other where President Mugabe is going to be buried and that place will take about 30 days to complete,” his nephew Leo Mugabe said.
Mnangagwa confirmed the burial would only take place once a new mausoleum had been built there for the former leader.
Around a dozen African leaders and former presidents, including South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, are among those expected to attend Mugabe’s official state funeral on Saturday in Harare in a sports stadium.
Tensions had erupted when Mnangagwa’s government proposed a burial at the monument while the family said he would be buried at a private ceremony, possibly in his homestead of Kutama, in the Zvimba region, northwest of the capital.
Leo Mugabe said Mugabe’s body would go to Zvimba while the new tomb was built.
The former leader had been travelling to Singapore regularly for medical treatment but allies say his health deteriorated rapidly after his ouster.
Some of Mugabe’s relatives are still bitter over how he was removed from power, and the role Mnangagwa played in his ouster.
Mugabe dismissed Mnangagwa as first vice president in 2017 — a move many perceived as a bid to position his wife Grace to succeed him after nearly four decades of autocratic rule.
Soon after, Mugabe was toppled by protesters and the army in what was seen as part of a power struggle within the ruling ZANU-PF party between pro-Mnangagwa factions and Mugabe loyalists siding with Grace.
He remained free in Zimbabwe with his family after he was forced from office.
People divided –
Zimbabweans have been split over the death of a man who some still praise for ending white-minority rule and widening access to health and education to the poor black majority.
But many Zimbabweans remember his tyrannical leadership and economic mismanagement that forced millions to escape a country ravaged by hyper-inflation and shortages of food, drugs and fuel.
“We are happier now that he is gone. Why should I go to his funeral? I don’t have fuel,” said Constance, 52, a Harare housewife.
“We don’t want to hear anything about him anymore. He is the cause of our problems.”
Mugabe’s legacy is also marked by a crackdown known as Gukurahundi, which killed an estimated 20,000 alleged “dissidents”, and his violent seizure of white-owned farms that made him an international outcast.
Mnangagwa himself is under pressure after promising a new post-Mugabe era of more investment and jobs after he came to power, with little success.
His government’s fuel price hike this year sparked protests which led to a crackdown on opposition and clashes in which soldiers opened fire killing 17 people.
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