Harare – Zimbabwe’s leading opposition said on Thursday that police arrested eight of its supporters after banning a campaign rally, in a move the party denounced as part of an escalating crackdown ahead of national elections.
The southern African country, where the ruling Zanu-PF party has been in power since 1980, is bracing for what is expected to be a tense vote on August 23.
On Wednesday, police fired teargas and clashed with supporters of the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) in the southeastern town of Chiredzi, after the party was prevented from holding a campaign event.
CCC’s spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere told AFP that at least eight people were held.
“Zanu-PF can never win a free and fair election which is why they’re resorting to rally bans and abusing the police service to try and stop our campaign activity,” she said.
Zanu-PF and the police did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Eighty-year-old President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who replaced strongman ruler Robert Mugabe in 2017 after a military-led coup, is seeking re-election in the August vote.
But he faces a disaffected population that is battling hyperinflation, poverty and high unemployment.
His main challenger, CCC’s leader Nelson Chamisa, a 45-year-old lawyer and pastor, was expected to address the rally at a stadium in Chiredzi before authorities banned it.
Police said the rally clashed with a state event — the opening of a new clinic by a government minister — and they did not have enough resources to deal with both.
Hundreds of CCC supporters showed up in any case and scuffled with security forces.
The CCC has long complained about harassment and intimidation from authorities, with its gatherings disrupted and members detained on what critics say are politically motivated charges.
In June, five activists were held after an alleged altercation at a voter registration centre.
Another 25 were arrested in January after police raided the house of an MP for an alleged unlawful political meeting.
CCC rallies were violently dispersed also in the run-up to by-elections last year, when police also accused ruling party activists of infiltrating and stoking deadly violence at an opposition demonstration.