PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s government was yesterday left ashen-faced after sporadic violent protests exploded in parts of Harare, keeping the police on their toes, amid fears the civil unrest could spread to other parts of the country.
BY STAFF REPORTERS
The residents were demonstrating against socio-economic hardships and government’s heavy-handedness in crushing peaceful protests.
This came as angry London-based Zimbabweans – who pleaded with the British government not to lend any financial assistance to Mugabe’s regime – besieged visiting Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa.
Chinamasa was speaking at the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House on a desperate visit to Europe to try to raise money for the bankrupt Zanu PF government.
Protesters from the Zimbabwe Vigil and its sister organisation, Restoration of Human Rights in Zimbabwe, picketed at Chatham House, with posters reading: No to Mugabe lies, Don’t prop up the Mugabe’s regime, Dont lend money to thieves and Zimbabweans reject odious debt.
Chinamasa was later rescued by British police.
In Harare, a Zimbabwe Republic Police officer was left battling for his life after clashes with protesters in Epworth, while authorities had to use live ammunition in Mabvuku and Ruwa to disperse angry commuter omnibus crews, who were protesting the heavy police presence on most roads leading to the city centre.
Police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba said 30 people had been arrested, while 10 commuter omnibuses were impounded in connection with the violent protests.
“As police, we have information and intelligence on the identities of some criminal elements behind the social unrest. We have put our monitoring teams in place and all perpetrators of violence will be arrested,” she told a Press briefing in the afternoon.
Heavily-armed riot police had a torrid time trying to quell the demonstrators and were, on several occasions, forced to retreat and only managed to break the protests after a stand-off lasting several hours.
The latest skirmishes come just three days after the arrest of 71 demonstrators who protested the implementation of regulations that literally bar the importation of a basket of products.
Police in Beitbridge yesterday dispersed vendors and forced closure of markets for fear of further uprisings in solidarity with disturbances reported in other parts of the country.
Civic society group Tajamuka/Sesijikile said it was mobilising a massive job stayaway tomorrow to force Mugabe to step down.
One of the leaders of the campaign, Promise Mkhwananzi, said the pressure group would spearhead tomorrow’s nationwide stayaway.
“We are leading the peaceful protest and our core demand is for Mugabe to step down now. Mugabe and his Zanu PF government must step down, they have failed and the people have rebelled against them,” he said.
Yesterday’s Harare riots were sparked by commuter omnibus drivers and touts, who were protesting against numerous police roadblocks, which they claimed were pushing them out of business, as traffic police demanded hefty bribes.
They were later joined by restive residents, who were protesting economic hardships and government’s failure to deliver on its 2013 election promises.
As early as 5am, residents barricaded roads with rocks, burnt tyres and timber, blocking traffic into the city.
The situation quickly degenerated into chaos, as they fought running battles with the police, in which several tuckshops were looted and a bread delivery van was ransacked.
Police resorted to brute force, firing teargas and water cannons at protesters, while in other areas live ammunition was used to disperse the angry crowds.
“The problem with us Zimbabweans is that we take a backseat when others are pushing for a better life. Everyone should play a part in forcing the government to act,” a protester, who declined to be named, said.
Former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T party threw its weight behind the protests against Mugabe’s rule, calling for the Zanu PF government to resign en masse.
“The crisis in the country is worsening every day, and the deteriorating situation demands nothing less than the resignation of Mugabe and his government,” party spokesman Obert Gutu said yesterday.
“These popcorn demonstrations and protests are symptomatic of grave national grievances that remain unresolved.”
With different pressure groups among them planning what has been dubbed a “national shutdown” tomorrow, Gutu said the MDC-T would be part of the protests meant to force Mugabe into retirement.
#ThisFlag frontman and cleric Evan Mawarire issued a statement through a video broadcast.
“Wednesday July 6, we are shutting down Zimbabwe because the government is taking us for fools. I want to invite you to do something to save our country. We love Zimbabwe so much we cannot let it continue to burn and taken down,” he said.
“We are staying at home, all workers and schoolchildren. This is your nation; civil servants do not go [to work].
This government needs to deal with corruption. They are arresting demonstrators and not corrupt officials,” he said, adding: “Even if I am arrested, do not go to work.”
Meanwhile, Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe president Johannes Ndanga urged Zimbabweans to remain calm and peaceful, saying God had solutions to all the troubles bedevilling the country.