After hopes of a recovery following the ousting of President Robert Mugabe in November 2017, and the election of Emerson Mnangagwa as President in elections widely held to be free and fair in July 2018, Zimbabwe has once again descended into economic and political chaos, said by many observers to be worse than the economic collapse in 2008.
The latest crisis was precipitated by an announcement of a 150% increase in the price of fuel on 13 January, bringing the price of petrol to US$3,31 per litre (ZA Rand 45). By then, most shops had already run out of supplies.
Public reaction was swift. The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZICTU) called for a national stayaway. On Monday 14 January 2019, hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans took to the streets all over the country in protest. Reaction by the security forces was equally swift and brutal. By the end of the first day of protests, reports indicated that 6 people had been shot dead by soldiers using live ammunition. There was widespread looting of businesses in all major centres.
President Mnangagwa was not in the country. He had flown to Russia for an official visit. During this visit, it was announced that the Russian company Alrosa would be given control of Zimbabwe’s diamond fields. From Russia he went to Davos (Switzerland) to attend the meeting of the World Economic Forum. He only returned to Harare on Monday 21 January.
Photo Below: Protests in Harare 14 January 2019
Photo Below: Police fire teargas on Harare Protesters
During Mnangagwa’s absence, repression of the protest continued by security forces. On 15 January, popular human rights activist Pastor Evan Mwarire was arrested. He was denied bail, and is only set to appear in court on Wednesday 23 January. On 15 January the government also closed down the internet and social media. Although the High Court declared the shutdown to be unconstitutional, internet and social media access continues to be sporadic and unreliable.
On 16 January security forces began to man roadblocks throughout the country, to hunt down protesters. House to house searches also began to be conducted in Harare and Bulawayo, with reports emerging of people being tortured in their houses, and cell phones and laptop computers being confiscated.
While in Davos, Mnangagwa issued a statement describing the excessive force being used by security forces as unacceptable, and vowing that there would be an official probe.
At least 12 people were killed and 78 treated for gunshot injuries, according to the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, which recorded more than 240 incidents of assault and torture. The final death toll remains in dispute. Zimbabwean government sources claim that only 4 people were killed.
Photo Below: Police conducting house to house searches, Harare
After his return to the country, Mnangagwa reiterated his statement that violence by security forces is “unacceptable” and says it will be investigated. He said that chaos and insubordination will not be tolerated and “if required, heads will roll”. He also called for a “national dialogue” among political parties. The opposition called Mnangagwa’s new call for dialogue a “gimmick to buy time.” “Mnangagwa’s overtures are always on Twitter. He knows where we are, yet he has chosen not to talk to us directly,” MDC spokesperson Jacob Mafume said. MDC leader Nelson Chamisa said his attempts at dialogue had been “spurned and mocked” and that people must be free to talk without fear.
Hopes of an economic revival in Zimbabwe lie in tatters 14 months after President Emmerson Mnangagwa took office, as the nation reels from foreign exchange and fuel shortages, strikes and a death of political leadership. On Monday 21 January, South Africa declined Zimbabwe’s request to borrow $1.2bn (about R16bn), the National Treasury has said. The country made the request for a rescue package in December, Jabulani Sikhakhane, a spokesman for the Pretoria-based Treasury said that “South Africa doesn’t have the money to provide that kind of assistance,”.
Photo Below: Zimbabwe Youth Alliance chairman Kumbirai Magorimbo after torture by soldiers
By Wednesday 23 January an uneasy calm had returned to the streets. However, witnesses say Zimbabwean soldiers are still roaming the streets of the capital and assaulting people, even after the president denounced violence by security forces as “unacceptable”. Soldiers in two army trucks appeared to be targeting street vendors as they cruised Harare’s streets at nightfall.
A doctor said the 12 documented deaths and more than 300 people wounded are likely ” just a fraction of the actual victims.” More than 600 people have been arrested, most denied bail. The “army is on the forefront of orchestrating the violence,” backed by ruling Zanu-PF youth gangs and police, Dr Norman Matara with the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights told reporters in Johannesburg. The pattern of injuries seen in the more than 300 people wounded and 12 dead suggested premeditation and training in torture, Matara said, and “we think these numbers are just a fraction of the actual victims” as some were too scared to seek treatment. Several people were dragged from their hospital beds and arrested. Some were shot in the head at close range and died. About half of those wounded were bystanders hit by stray bullets when the military opened fire on crowds. The group documented abuse of people as young as 9.
Arrests continued. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said police detained labour federation leader Japhet Moyo overnight, just hours after releasing him. He is charged with subversion for his role in organising the national strike along with pastor and activist Evan Mawarire. Police also detained 28 people being treated at a hospital in the capital, Harare, the lawyers’ group said, calling it “very inhumane.”
Photo Below: Police brutality in Chitungwiza
Zimbabwe’s turmoil again brought questions about tensions between Mnangagwa and the man he had left in charge, hard-line Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, who had led the military effort to oust Mugabe.
Mnangagwa and Chiwenga have dismissed reports of a rift, and they hugged upon the president’s return late on Monday.
The ongoing assaults raise questions about the influence the president has to rein in the military’s use of force.
The current crisis is possibly also an indication of dissatisfaction within the ruling party with Mnangagwa’s rule.
The following was reported on www.zimlive.com:
HARARE – Zanu PF rebels have initiated a process to recall President Emmerson Mnangagwa from the presidency, ZimLive can reveal.
At least 35 Zanu PF MPs met at the party’s headquarters in Harare on Friday night, where war veterans’ leader Christopher Mutsvangwa laid out the plan, sources have said.
The rebels are said to be considering a wildcard candidate to take over. Legally, Vice Presidents Constantino Chiwenga or Kembo Mohadi, the other Vice President, would assume the presidency on an acting basis until Zanu PF nominates a replacement, who could be a new name.
The rebels are supported by Zanu PF heavyweights who were sidelined by Mnangagwa from his Cabinet, among them former Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa, Zanu PF chair Oppah Muchinguri and Obert Mpofu, the former Home Affairs Minister.
The plotters, sources said, were fanning out this weekend to the provinces to mobilise parliamentary and party support for Mnangagwa’s ouster.
The panic in Zanu PF has been occasioned by a fear that the party could be “run out of town” by a popular uprising. This follows Monday’s widespread protests over a 150 percent increase in the price of fuel decreed by Mnangagwa. The protesters exhibited a militancy never before seen.
For Mutsvangwa and others, who have traditionally been Mnangagwa loyalists, there is a second added danger that the military faction in Zanu PF could seize control of the party and banish them.
“The key grievance is how he has led the party and the country since the coup in November 2017. Things have become worse, not better. Many comrades are disgruntled that he has elected to surround himself with people from his village, side-lining those who secured him the presidency.
Chiwenga, and a faction of the military, have also been growingly concerned with Mnangagwa’s leadership, ZimLive was briefed. He told Mnangagwa to announce the 150 percent fuel price increase before leaving on his five-nation trip because he was tired of making pronouncements which were later contradicted by Mnangagwa or some of the President’s loyalists, a source said.
“What you’ve seen is Chiwenga becoming less vocal about what’s happening. He has become quite despondent with a running narrative of Mnangagwa as the good guy and himself as the irrational one who makes all the radical decisions,” the official said.
Mnangagwa’s statements calling the excessive use of force “unacceptable”, were contradicted on Sunday 20 January by his spokesperson, Mr George Charamba. A crackdown last week on protests in Zimbabwe is a foretaste of how the government will respond to future unrest, the president’s spokesman was quoted saying on Sunday, fuelling concerns that Zimbabwe is reverting to authoritarian rule. “Government will not stand by while such narrow interests play out so violently,” Charamba told the state-controlled Sunday Mail newspaper. “The response so far is just a foretaste of things to come.” He said the authorities would review some provisions of the constitution adopted in 2013, which he said were being abused by proponents of democracy. Charamba said the MDC leadership and affiliate organisations would be “held fully accountable for the violence and the looting.” The MDC denies fomenting unrest.
A partial internet blackout was still in force on Sunday 20 January, two days after mobile networks sent messages to customers saying they had been ordered to keep social media sites shut until further notice.