ZIMBABWE yesterday tightened the COVID-19 lockdown in major cities, with police and army blocking motorists and commuters from entering central business districts around the country after infections tripled in one week.
BY MOSES MATENGA
Several roadblocks were mounted on major roads leading into city centres, with long queues of cars developing at major police checkpoints.
COVID-19 infections rose to 206 yesterday after the country eased lockdown regulations two weeks ago, although authorities say most of the new infections were of Zimbabweans returning from other countries and are being held in isolation centres.
Police were only allowing government workers such as security services and medical professionals to pass through the roadblocks, where the majority were turned back, and the situation was severe in Harare than other cities, where traffic was largely unhindered.
There was no prior warning to the clampdown, with Information permanent secretary Ndavaningi Mangwana claiming government had thrown away its lackadaisical approach to enforcing the lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19.
But a coincidence with the arrest of MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa’s lawyer, Advocate Thabani Mpofu, who was supposed to appear at the Harare Magistrates Court yesterday, charged with obstructing the course of justice, could have triggered the police roadblocks for fear of protests by opposition supporters.
There was also speculation that MDC-T leader Thokozani Khupe wanted to take over the MDC Alliance party headquarters, the Morgan Richard Tsvangirai House, yesterday following a Supreme Court ruling that declared her the acting leader of the opposition party.
There was also suspicion that the MDC Alliance could resist the party headquarters takeover, where Chamisa presided over a standing committee meeting yesterday and is expected to lead the national council today at the same venue.
Others said there were fears of protests over the arrest of MDC Alliance youth leader Obey Sithole, who was nabbed yesterday and is likely to appear in court today.
But Mangwana insisted there was nothing amiss in the clampdown, which most people yesterday claimed was to intimidate opposition supports to allow Khupe and MDC-T secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora enough time to dismantle Chamisa’s MDC Alliance.
“The government has not pronounced a change in lockdown regulations. We are still on level 2 lockdown and permitted economic activity should go ahead. Police are only enforcing the pronounced and gazetted level 2 conditions,” Mangwana wrote on Twitter.
Cabinet yesterday also resolved “that enforcement agents should be capacitated to effectively enforce level 2 of the lockdown as there is an increase in the number of people defying the lockdown.”
Zimbabwe, with 206 cases, is under an indefinite national lockdown and last Sunday, Mnangagwa did not review the conditions spelt out under the order.
Traffic jams were the order of the day as many tried to find their way into Harare city centre, but commuters without adequate papers were fished out of public transport and forced back home, while those walking to town were also turned back.
Later in the day, several shops and offices were forced to close, with police ordering people out of the CBD.
“The rest of the public should stay at home in order for the nation to curtail the increase in new COVID-19 cases being recorded. Please note that it is not everyone who should be in the CBD. Let us all be security and health conscious in view of the increase of COVID-19 case,” national police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said.
“Police and other security services have stepped up patrols, roadblocks and surveillance in order to ensure compliance.”
Videos of soldiers chasing away people who had tried to “illegally” find their way into the city immediately went viral.
Thousands of people have, of late, been finding their way into the city centre, but this all changed yesterday as the police and army forced many back home, in some instances beating up people who wanted to force their way into the city centre.
There has been outrage from the informal sector that constitute more than 95% of the workforce in the country, who have gone for two months with no income and pressuring the government to at least provide cushioning allowances.
Author Tsitsi Dangarembga took to the streets on a solo protest, describing the response to COVID-19 in Zimbabwe as “slaughter”.
Several people have also sued police and government for assault in their enforcement of lockdown regulations that has seen many injured.
Said MDC Alliance vice-president Tendai Biti: “The regime can’t simply wake up with its brain in its mouth and simply shut down access to Harare’s CBD. The lockdown regulations certainly do not allow that and have, in any event, opened up the formal sector. Impunity and indifference is the hallmark of all failed authoritarian states.”
Meanwhile, more than 50 000 people have been arrested so far for contravening lockdown regulations.
The police said 1 324 were arrested on June 1, adding that a total of 157 people had escaped from quarantine centres countrywide.