Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Students demonstrate during opening of parliament

By Lance Guma
SW Radio Africa
14 October 2008

The Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) on Tuesday held a demonstration during the opening of parliament in Harare. According to ZINASU coordinator Mfundo Mlilo, between 500 to 1000 students from tertiary colleges and universities around the country converged to hand in a petition detailing demands they want met by the new government. As expected the union President Clever Bere and ZINASU legal secretary were arrested. Gender Secretary Privilege Mutanga was also assaulted by police during the chaos that later ensued. The exact number of students and leaders arrested remained unclear at the time of broadcast. Mlilo confirmed they had received an SMS from Bere saying they were being held at Harare Central Police Station.
The protest attracted students from Harare, Masvingo, Bindura, Seke and Bulawayo colleges and seems to have taken police by surprise. The force dispatched a single truck with 10 riot police unaware the crowd along 4th Street was much bigger than anticipated. The students promptly chased this first batch of riot police away. Mlilo says the police then responded by dispatching another 3 truckloads to come and put down the demonstration. Although the protest was peaceful police assaulted some of their leaders and those in detention were complaining they were still being harassed and assaulted.
Several members of the public queuing for cash at CABS 4th Street branch are said to have joined the demonstration. The huge crowd was singing revolutionary songs as their marched towards parliament. Once near the building they sat down on the road and pavements while their leaders handed over a petition. It was soon after that the mayhem broke out. Police told union leaders they clamped down on the protesters because they had not been notified in advance of the demonstration.
Meanwhile parliamentary business itself was reduced to the same old bickering between ZANU PF and the MDC. The combined MDC, basking in the glory of a 110 seat majority, came up against ZANU PF’s minority of 99 seats for the first time in the country’s history. Traditionally the first session starts with a debate on the President’s address but the MDC resisted this. . A legislator told Newsreel they simply ended up ‘debating the propriety of debating the President’s speech, given outstanding issues of legitimacy and the fact the dialogue process was still pending a resolution.’
While ZANU PF MP’s praised Mugabe’s speech the MDC dismissed it as failing to address the country’s problems. Although there was some suggestion parliament will debate Constitutional Amendment 19, meant to legalize the power sharing accord signed last month, this never happened. The new post of Prime Minister and his two deputies have to be inserted into the constitution. Newsreel was told that because of the uncertainty surrounding the power sharing deal it was felt it would be premature to push the amendment through at this stage.

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