MEMBERS of the Zimbabwe National Army and the police yesterday shut down the central business districts (CBDs) of major cities and towns, kicking out civilians and barricading all roads into city centres ahead of today’s planned protests.
BY MOSES MATENGA
The army, along with anti-riot police, forced businesses to close shop as activists under the July 31 Movement banner vowed to press ahead with the planned demonstrations.
The ruling Zanu PF party, the military and police have threatened to come down hard on the protesters, who say President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration has completely failed.
Critics say Mnangagwa has failed to revive the economy after taking over from the late Robert Mugabe, who was removed by his army chiefs in a coup in November 2017.
Last year, Mnangagwa brought back the inflation-prone Zimdollar, and many Zimbabweans say they are worse off than when he took over after losing savings to hyperinflation for the second time in a decade.
Yesterday, thousands were turned away in Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Kwekwe, Mutare, Gokwe and other cities amid reports that the army, in some instances, resorted to beating up civilians in suburbs.
In Harare, it took truckloads of armed soldiers to chase away scores of people who had opened their businesses in Mbare, a populous suburb and in downtown Harare.
A military helicopter was flying around high-density areas such as Mufakose, Budiriro, Warren Park, Rugare and Kambuzuma as a show of force ahead of the protests.
In Gweru, armed soldiers patrolled the CBD with water cannons.
In Bulawayo, shops were forced to close early as armed soldiers and police on horse back patrolled the CBD.The situation was tense in Mutare, with police and soldiers patrolling in most suburbs.
By midday, the streets were deserted and very few people were allowed into town.
In Masvingo, soldiers and police maintained a heavy presence in the city centre and suburbs, but allowed those with employment letters to go to work.
MDC Alliance vice-president Tendai Biti condemned the actions of the security apparatus, saying: “The regime has blocked all access to Harare’s CBD. Citizens are being turned away without regard to the law and their documents of authenticity. A de facto state of emergency is now in play. Repression and fascism will never be a substitute for legitimacy, constitutionalism and good governance.”
The international community said it was keeping a close eye on developments in Zimbabwe ahead of the protests.
Said Swedish Foreign Affairs minister Ann Linde: “Closely following developments in Zimbabwe. Freedom of speech and freedom of expression should not be compromised during challenging times of COVID-19 pandemic. The work of civil society, trade unions and journalists is key for a sustainable and prosperous democracy.”
Zanu PF infighting also took centre stage as material believed to have been printed by a faction targeting Mnangagwa made rounds.
Messages on the placards included statements like “our generals, liberate us from Mnangagwa”.
Others read in part: “General Chiwenga, save us from corruption … General Chiwenga, tisunungureio vapambepfumi vauraya nyika (free us, looters have run down this country)…,” among others.
Political analyst Eldred Masunungure said the army and police actions meant that they were serious about crushing any protests.
“It is implementation of a warning that the Zanu PF and security sector establishments have been issuing for some days now. Today was the beginning of the escalation of that implementation with a view to ensure that July 31 will be a complete shutdown and stop people from the city centre,” he said.
“I think (today) will take most risk-taking orientation to get into town because I gather that it is not just about blocking people, but beatings of those who get into town. It is a stern warning and it is a power retention strategy that the regime is implementing.”
— Additional reporting by Silas Nkala/Nqobani Ndlovu/Brenna Matendere/Kennedy Nyangani/Tatenda Chitagu