The Mozambican police on Friday afternoon forced the cancellation of a demonstration in central Maputo in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe, on the grounds that not enough policemen were available to guarantee the security of the demonstration.
At very short notice a few dozen people gathered at Robert Mugabe Square on the Maputo seafront intending to march to the Zimbabwean embassy, in protest at the state-sponsored violence that reduced the second round of the presidential election to a bloodstained charade.
The demonstration was perfectly legal, since the organizers, the Mozambican Human Rights League (LDH) and the Centre for Mozambican and International Studies (CEMO), had informed the authorities of their intentions in good time. Nonetheless, the police said that the march could not go ahead, because the Maputo City Police Command was already providing security for a second demonstration elsewhere in this capital.
AIM was unaware of any other demonstration planned to coincide with the LDH/CEMO march. If such a demonstration took place, it escaped the notice of journalists, since there is no mention of it in Saturday’s issue of the Maputo daily “Noticias”. The police were unable to inform the protestors in Robert Mugabe Square of the nature of the second demonstration.
Possibly they were referring to a march by former workers of the port and rail company CFM, demanding further compensation from the company. But that took place on Friday morning, and so there was no clash of times.
The police told the organizers that, since the route of the march took it along busy central Maputo streets, and past embassies, and sensitive public buildings such as ministry’s and the office of President Armando Guebuza, it needed more policemen than were available to guarantee security and order.
Faced with this situation, the LDH and CEMO felt they had no alternative but to accept the police instruction, and ask the demonstrators to disperse.
“Our demonstration was not against the Mozambican authorities, and it was not against the Zimbabwean Embassy”, said LDH jurist Custodio Dumas. “It was a demonstration to say we are feeling what the Zimbabwean people are going through at this moment. We wanted to say to the Zimbabweans that what is happening to them also affects us, and we see no reason why a demonstration of this sort should not be authorized”.
A press release from CEMO pointed out that, because of the wave of violence gripping Zimbabwe, the United Nations, the African Union, and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) had all urged that the second round of the presidential election be postponed. CEMO itself had held two public debates in Maputo which had concluded that the conditions for holding a genuine election in Zimbabwe did not exist.
Some of the demonstrators, interviewed by Mozambican television stations, called for Robert Mugabe Square to be renamed. The square was given Mugabe’s name in 1981, during his first official visit to Mozambique (then as Prime Minister, under the Lancaster House constitution). At the time, Mugabe was regarded as the man who, with Mozambican backing, had liberated Zimbabwe: no-one in 1981 imagined what would happen 27 years later.