FOUR more people reportedly died yesterday as protests against the weekend’s fuel price increases turned deadly, with heavily armed soldiers and police patrolling the streets in major cities and towns, arbitrarily assaulting civilians in high-density suburbs.
BY STAFF REPORTERS/OWN CORRESPONDENTS
Businesses, schools and banks remained shut on the second day of the national shutdown called by Zimbabwe’s largest labour body, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions over the southern African country’s worsening economic crisis in a decade.
Confrontations between State security agents boiled over, with running battles in local townships across the country.
One person was reportedly shot in Mabvuku, two at Kuwadzana 4 shops at point blank, while the third one, from Marondera, was pronounced dead on arrival at Marondera Provincial Hospital.
According to the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, over 30 people were treated for injuries, but the number of victims and casualties could be higher after government blocked the Internet in an effort to cut off communication.
Armed police officers and soldiers were reportedly moving door-to-door, beating up people and ordering them to remove barricades mounted on the roads.
Most roads were still barricaded in Kuwadzana and police rounded up people as early as 7am, as army trucks rolled past the empty streets, with members of the uniformed forces beating up people at bus terminuses.
Kuwadzana, Dzivarasekwa and Warren Park residents sought refuge in near-by hills as the situation became tense.
Suspected soldiers in civilian clothes, wearing masks and armed with AK-47 assault rifles, were also on the prowl.
According to a witness, the shooting victim in Kuwadzana was left lying on the ground while the police and soldiers continued to fish out people from their homes and assault them.
A NewsDay reporter witnessed the shooting and rounding off of residents before being assaulted with sjamboks.
The situation was the same in Mabvuku, Marondera and Warren Park, where helicopters were used to support armed personnel on the ground.
Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa accused the MDC of organising the protests together with non-governmental organisations, which she said were bent on “regime change”.
“The timing of these events is instructive in two ways.
They come against the background where His Excellency the President Cde ED Mnangagwa is out of the country and two, they are intended to undermine on-going re-engagement efforts of the President to market Zimbabwe at the high level forum such as the World Economic Forum in Davos,” Mutsvangwa said in a televised speech.
She added that a police officer in Entumbane, Bulawayo, was killed by protesters and at least 30 motor vehicles were burnt, including a school bus, while shops were looted.
But she made no mention of how the government planned to address grievances raised by workers.
In recent weeks, doctors and teachers have protested over poor remuneration and conditions of service amid rising prices and the cost of living, while businesses have shut down for lack of foreign currency to finance operations.
The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, in a letter to Industry minister Mangaliso Ndlovu at the weekend, said government had 10 days to address the crisis or risk a total shutdown of business.
Russian news agency RAI reported that Mnangagwa, who is on a five-country visit of Europe and Asia, was open to Russian loans to plug the foreign currency gap, and to also “modernise” Zimbabwe’s military.
Back home, protests spread to smaller towns and cities, as security forces battled to restore order.
Skirmishes between protesters and armed police were reported in Kadoma, Kwekwe, Mvurwi, Karoi and Chinhoyi, among other places.
On Monday night, soldiers under the cover of darkness allegedly descended on high-density hotspots of Budiriro, Epworth, Glen View, Kuwadzana and Chitungwiza, assaulting everyone in sight, resulting in running battles as residents fought back.
Lootings were reported in several high-density suburbs shops in Bulawayo, Chitungwiza and Mbare, while vehicles were also torched.
The ever-busy Siya-So informal market in Mbare was, however, deserted yesterday morning.
Harvest House, the MDC party headquarters now known as Morgan Tsvangirai House, was petrol-bombed on Monday night by suspected Zanu PF youths, destroying property worth thousands of dollars.
Southerton MP (MDC Alliance) Peter Moyo’s house in Rugare was also stoned by suspected Zanu PF supporters, who vandalised vehicles belonging to his tenants.
Some of the attackers were known Zanu PF supporters, according to Moyo.
There were no cross-border buses at the Roadport in Harare, leaving hundreds of travellers stranded.
In Bulawayo, most roads were barricaded in Pumula, Mpopoma, Nkulumane and Njube, where the situation remained tense.
Violence erupted in Nkulumane towards midday, where protesters broke into a Choppies Supermarket and looted goods.
In Mutare, most roads leading to the city centre were blocked, with riot police deployed in Sakubva and Dangamvura engaging in running battles with protesters.
The city centre was virtually deserted, with all shops closed for business and no long-distance buses at the Sakubva bus terminus.
Police used teargas and fired live ammunition to disperse protesters in Chikanga Phase 3, some of whom burnt down tuckshops.
In Marondera, fierce clashes erupted between anti-riot police and protesters in Dombotombo, where a police post was pulled down and police officers fled.
There were also protests in Cherutombo and Cherima high-density suburbs.
Cross-border travellers were caught up in the crisis and were struggling to cross the border after protesters barricaded the Beitbridge-Harare-Bulawayo roads before engaging in running battles with the military and police by close of day.
Gweru and Kwekwe were completely shut down. Shops, schools and government offices were all closed.
Roads were barricaded, with protesters burning tyres. Some protesters were injured when police fired warning shots in Mkoba 5.
In Karoi, uniformed soldiers rounded occupants at a guest house and assaulted them — mostly commercial sex workers.
One of the victims claimed she lost cash amounting to $560 during the melee. Members of the army from 2.3 Infantry Battalion were deployed to assist police contain protests in the town.
The school head at Peter Grout in Chiedza was also assaulted by the soldiers.