ONE of the hallmarks of democratic systems is how they allow people to express their opinions in peaceful and legal ways without harassing them. This is one thing that was conspicuously absent during the late President Robert Mugabe’s reign and, sadly in the Emmerson Mnangagwa administration despite touting itself as a champion of free speech.
The recent wave of arrests of 34 people, including two MDC officials, that allegedly took part in protests last week demonstrates that democratic values are not going to come on a silver platter. Human rights campaigners have a long fight ahead of them as reforms appear to be an anathema to this government, whose intolerance of dissent continues to deepen.
There is no reason why people should not be allowed to protest peacefully against the deteriorating economic situation in the country as this is their right guaranteed in the Constitution. It is worrisome that instead of investing more energy, time and resources in reforming the economy, government would rather invest in fighting those campaigning for the reforms. It is indeed a sad state of affairs.
The onslaught against dissent is not expected under constitutional democracies where citizens are guaranteed the right to protest within the confines of the law. Going after people when they participate in a demonstration is the highest proof of intolerance, and perhaps a not so subtle admission of failure. It is proof that the government does not want to be questioned or challenged, even when it is doing things the wrong way.
One would naturally have expected that by now, government would have expanded the democratic space to allow those that marched in November 2017 to celebrate the ouster of Mugabe the right to protest, which they were continuously denied during the long reign of the late strongman.
Such continued harassment of citizens is indeed disappointing and perhaps designed to instil fear in people and ensure that the Mnangagwa administration’s decisions are never called to account, even if the head of State has touted himself as “listening president”.
Such brutal crackdowns are the hallmark of dictators. But looked at in the light of previous demonstrations that were brutally put down using the barrel of the gun, one is persuaded to believe that indeed, we are now under a cruel and intolerant administration that brooks no opposition. All this is geared towards cowering the citizenry into silence so that they will never challenge those in power despite the adminstration’s hopeless ineptitude.