By Violet Gonda
18 January 2010
Freelance photo-journalist Shadreck Andrison Manyere, plus two other people, were arrested in Harare on Monday after police broke up a peaceful demonstration organised by the pressure group Women of Zimbabwe Arise. WOZA was protesting against exorbitant school fees and the crumbling education sector.
Previously Manyere was among a group of individuals, including activists and civic leaders, abducted from their homes by state agents in 2008. The political detainees spent several months in detention on charges of plotting to destabilise the former ZANU PF government. He is currently out on bail together with six other co-accused, including MDC officials Ghandi Mudzingwa and Chris Dhlamini.
This time around, the photo-journalist is being accused of filming the WOZA demonstration. The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said in a statement: “The police are also accusing Comfort Nyakura, who is employed by Jameson Hotel, of taking pictures using his mobile phone during the demonstration, while Tabeth Chatanda, who claimed to have been on her way to Parirenyatwa Hospital is accused of taking part in the demonstration.”
Members of Women and Men of Zimbabwe Arise had marched to the Ministry of Education to deliver their report on the failing education system in Zimbabwe entitled: Looking Back to look Forward.
Such is the level of decay in education even the state controlled Sunday Mail had no choice but to report that rural schools recorded a zero percent pass rate for Grade Seven exams. It is not known how the bankrupt government is going to achieve the mammoth task of resuscitating what used to be one of the best education systems in Africa.
WOZA says it wanted to present the report on the crisis in the education sector (containing recommendations and a list of demands from parents) to Education Minister David Coltart, but riot police disrupted the demonstration. The pressure group said: “On arrival at the Ministry a small delegation went to meet with the Minister Senator David Coltart, to give him a copy of the report. Before he could come downstairs to address the peaceful group outside, a truckload of riot police arrived, beating their baton sticks on their shields. The journalist and the man were arrested at this point and the rest of the group dispersed. The woman who is currently under arrest was arrested near parliament, over a block away from the Ministry of Education.”
The media watchdog, MISA-Zimbabwe, said the disturbing development ‘comes barely three days after a senior freelance journalist Stanley Kwenda fled the country after he was allegedly phoned and threatened with death by a senior police officer’. It is reported the journalist fled the country after he was called on his mobile by the police officer, over a story published in The Zimbabwean newspaper.
The arrests and intimidation of journalists and activists are in gross violation of the Global Political Agreement signed in September 2008 by ZANU PF and the MDC formations, which guarantees freedom of assembly and association, and all parties also promised to provide a free media environment.
Kumbirai Mafunda, the communications officer for Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, told SW Radio Africa that like most media practitioners in Zimbabwe, photo-journalist Manyere holds expired accreditation, issued by the now defunct Tafataona Mahoso led, Media and Information Commission. The MIC fell away with the signing of the GPA in 2008 and it has taken well over a year to appoint the Zimbabwe Media Commission to replace it. The list of commissioners was only confirmed on 22nd December 2009 and they are still to be sworn in. Nonetheless Mafunda said the police were asking Manyere why he was moving around with an expired card, even though the new accreditation process has not started and journalists have no option.
A WOZA statement issued late Monday said Manyere had been released with a caution, but the other two will spend the night in police custody at Harare Central Police Station. The group said it is unclear what the two will be charged with.
In other news, the terrorism trial of MDC Treasurer General Roy Bennett continued in the High Court on Monday, where the prosecution is making moves to impeach its own key witness, Peter Michael Hitschmann, for allegedly making contradicting statements. Hitschmann is saying there are no inconsistencies as he was tortured into implicating the MDC official. High Court Judge Justice Chinembiri Bhunu deferred a ruling on the matter to Thursday.