WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. disappointment with Zimbabwe’s government keeps growing amid the heavy-handed response of authorities to any form of opposition, a senior State Department official said on Monday following a crackdown last week against protesters.
“The disappointment just keeps getting worse and worse, unfortunately,” said the official, speaking on background to reporters. “The government seems to be getting even more violent in their response to any form of opposition.”
The official said Washington had made clear to the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa what it would take to improve relations between Zimbabwe and the United States. U.S. officials have previously called on Mnangagwa to change Zimbabwe’s laws restricting media freedom and allowing protests.
Mnangagwa’s government last week banned anti-government protests by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which accuses the authorities of political repression and mismanaging the economy. Police fired tear gas to disperse crowds and barred access to the MDC’s Harare offices.
In March, President Donald Trump extended by one year U.S. sanctions against 100 entities and individuals in Zimbabwe, including Mnangagwa, saying his government had failed to bring about political and economic changes.
Statement from Professor Danwood Chirwa, Dean of Law at the University of Cape Town on the assault and arrest of UCT Law Alumnus Doug Coltart by police in Harare, Zimbabwe on Friday 23 August 2019
In the spirit of the maintenance of the rule of law, and following in the footsteps of many distinguished Law graduates of the University of Cape Town over its long history, I draw attention to the following events late last week.
The Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) held an approved protest on Friday 23 August against current teacher salaries.
The protest was the first “PayDay Funeral”, marking the beginning of monthly protests to demand a living wage for Zimbabwe’s teachers.
Mr Doug Coltart, who obtained his LLB from the University of Cape Town in 2013 (and son of UCT Law alumnus Sir David Coltart, LLB Class of 1982), went to the protest as ARTUZ’s attorney, to provide support to its members who had received threats prior to the approved march.
Coltart was arrested, apparently (and by media reports) in response to nothing more than his asking the police why one of the protesters was being arrested. Coltart stated on Twitter “This was a peaceful lawful picket. Police were notified. ARTUZ has received threats … so I went to provide legal backup.”
Along with some union members, Coltart was handcuffed, assaulted and detained, until bail was granted after a court appearance a day later.
I condemn this brazen abuse of power by the Zimbabwean police and salute the commitment of Mr Coltart to his duties as an officer of the Court.
Professor Danwood Chirwa
Dean of Law | University of Cape Town