Zimbabwean pro-democracy activists have urged citizens to commit to nonviolent action after supporters were assaulted and abducted this morning ahead of a planned demonstration dubbed #MunhuWeseMuRoad.
Sources on the ground, who could not be identified for fear for their safety, told IBTimes UK that men abducted and beat half a dozen activists, including prominent political activists Patson Dzamara, Ishmael Kauzani and Sten Zvorwadza, who had been calling for Zimbabweans to gather and protest in the capital Harare on Friday (18 November).
Leaders of #ThisFlag, the National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe (NAVUZ) and #ThisGown are currently holding meetings to decide whether or not to go ahead with the demonstration in the light of the attack.
Protest movement Tajamuka stated it would not participate in the planned march in an official capacity, but IBTimes UK understands several of the movement's leaders are expected to join the demonstration.
"[The attack] is clearly an act of intimidation to try and thwart the demonstration today," Doug Coltart, a Zimbabwean lawyer and the son of David Coltart, a prominent Zimbabwean lawyer and founding member of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), told IBTimes UK over the phone.
"The police are out in full-force in Harare's central business district (CBD) – moving out in groups of 10 all over the city in a clear threat to the demonstrators. It's a tough dilemma that the movement leaders find themselves in now. Do they back down and submit to the intimidation of the state or do they go ahead and risk people getting beaten up, and potentially killed? Certainly, there is a high risk of more people being assaulted at the end of the day."
Sande: 'Zanu-PF has declared war on its citizens'
Having called citizens to join the #MunhuWeseMuRoad demonstration which was planned to start from 09:00 (07:00 GMT), activists urged the population to remain committed to nonviolent action.
"The most important thing for the movement is to come out with a unified front, with the same message, but above all, if the demonstration does go ahead that at least, from the demonstrators' side, it is essential that it remains non-violent. The risk of demonstrating just after a very highly-emotionally charged morning when two of the movement leaders have been assaulted is that young men go out with an eye for revenge, which can be very damaging for the credibility of the movement, play right into the regime's hands," Coltart said.
"By now, word has reached out that [ruling party] Zanu-PF has declared war on its citizens," activist Promise Sande, said following the attack. Referring to Zvorwadza's injuries, the activist added: "There is no country [in which] citizens should live in where they are subjected to such butchery and to such torture. It is totally unacceptable. The government has gone to limits they are not supposed to reach at all."
After almost four decades of quelled frustrations under Robert Mugabe's iron-fisted reign, a flurry of citizen and civil activism movements have been rising and spreading in the African nation, calling for social, political and economic change.
Zanu-PF, which has been in power since the country gained independence from the UK in 1980, has repeatedly repressed political opponents and is accused of mass atrocities against civilians to consolidate power.
The Zimbabwean government could not be reached for comment.