Mozambican police on Saturday morning fired rubber bullets and tear gas at peaceful demonstrators in the capital city of Maputo.
Thousands of young people had come out to pay tribute to the late rapper Azagaia, who died on 9 March from an epileptic seizure.
The march had been given the go ahead by Maputo’s mayor Eneas Comiche. Protest marches are enshrined in the Mozambican constitution, and a specific law sets the terms under which they are allowed, namely that the organisers must inform the municipal authorities of the objective and proposed route.
However, for the better part of the last decade, authorities have chosen to interpret the law differently. The authorities, especially the police, argue that citizens should seek authorisation to march and not merely inform, reserving themselves the right to either deny or allow citizens to exercise their constitutional right.
Since the start of President Filipe Nyusi’s tenure, authorities have discriminately green-lighted marches organised by the ruling Frelimo party’s sympathisers and blocked demonstrations of those seen as anti-regime.
Throughout the week, various movements of people, manly youth, across the country wrote to their their respective mayors, informing them that they would hold peaceful demonstration to pay tribute to Azagaia.
Meanwhile, in Maputo, regime loyalists went to work to undermine the organisers by sharing posters on social media which claimed that news of the demonstration were fake. To counter this, the organisers shared Comiche’s letter green-lighting march.
Right on cue, Frelimo’s youth wing, the Organisation for Mozambique’s Youth (OJM), sent out a statement saying that it did not condone vandalism as if it had used a crystal ball to foresee events on Saturday.
As throngs of youths descended on the concentration point and others went straight to the Independence’s Square, where the march would end, police in riot gear fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse them – in the melee, pictures and video images made the rounds on social media of a youth being hit in the head and falling to the ground.
Then, the youths chose to assemble at another location, the “Magermanos” Park, where they held an impromptu rally denouncing what had just transpired. Again, the police came and broke it up.
In the central city of Beira, police also broke up the demonstrations – the chairperson of the municipal assembly was briefly arrested and only released after pressure from the youths – Beira is a city run by the opposition Mozambique’s Democratic Movement (MDM).
Two municipalities, namely Vilankulo and Manhiça, used their own warped interpretation of the law to ban the planned demonstrations. Manhiça, which is about 78.5 kms north of Maputo, euphemistically used President Nyusi’s “state of emergency” declaration, in the wake of Cyclone Freddy, to postpone the demonstration “sine die”, until the conditions are right – Zambézia province, where Freddy wrought out the most damage and caused death, sits 937 kms from Manhiça.
Ironically, a demonstration took place in Quelimane, Zambézia’s capital city, which bore the brunt of Cyclone Freddy.
Another municipality that banned the demonstration is Pemba, in the northern Cabo Delgado province. There, authorities argued that a march could not go on because of fears that insurgents could infiltrate the peaceful protest to cause some sort of havoc.
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