President Robert Mugabe opened a new session of Zimbabwe’s parliament Tuesday saying there should be no more political violence. But shortly before he spoke, members of his ZANU-PF party were beating up members of the public, as well as a freelance journalist and a city councilor, in a small park opposite parliament.
President Robert Mugabe arrived at parliament accompanied by a traditional cavalcade of mounted soldiers and the presidential guard to open a new legislative year.
As he was getting out of his vehicle, crowds of his ZANU-PF supporters, some dressed in party regalia, were throwing stones and beating up some members of the public walking through the central park, called Africa Unity Square.
A few streets west of parliament, the Movement for Democratic Change party, which is in a difficult 30-month-old inclusive government with ZANU-PF, decided to close the steel entrance gates to its headquarters to protect party officials inside.
A member of the security team protecting the party leadership, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was in the city center monitoring the violence.
"What I saw there it was actually terrible, people were being harassed in the park, Africa Unity Square by ZANU-PF people,” he said.
He said the violence continued against civilians as Mugabe and his wife Grace arrived outside parliament.
“They were singing party songs and slogans and if you failed to answer the slogan then they will start beating you, even stones they were throwing, everything,” he said.
Since the unity government came to power in 2009, several months after disputed and violence-plagued elections, MDC officials, legislators and party supporters have suffered from recurring attacks and arrests, usually at the hands of state security forces.
Despite protests to Mugabe and police chiefs, the violence continues, although at a lower level than after the 2008 elections won by the MDC.
The MDC says the Zimbabwean police is a partisan force which does not protect people unless they are members of ZANU-PF.
Uniformed and plainclothes detectives were posted throughout the city center before the opening of parliament.
"Police were there, the whole town, the police were there but they were doing nothing," he said. "They were there. The way I see it we will have so many people being hurt, when people are actually throwing stones it means something very bad, that is not good, they do not have to do that, we are in an inclusive government so I do not see the reason why should be fighting. “
Police spokesmen were not available for comment Tuesday.
Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi, a ZANU-PF member, said he did not see people being beaten up outside parliament and asked for video proof of the violence.
Meanwhile, Mugabe told parliament foreign investment is safe in Zimbabwe as long as the country’s laws are obeyed. The laws demand that 51 percent of all companies be sold to black Zimbabwean shareholders.
Mugabe also said the inclusive government is drawing up a new constitution before new elections.
Last week, for the first time, Mugabe conceded elections would not take place this year. At ZANU-PF’s annual conference last December, the party resolved new polls would be held in 2011 to end the inclusive government.
Since then the MDC and ZANU-PF have been negotiating a roadmap towards elections.
Mugabe also repeated what he has said several times this year, that there should be no more political violence in Zimbabwe.