The almost 2 000 protesters delivered a petition to Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa at the government complex housing the Finance Ministry. In the petition, they demanded that the government stayed its plans to introduce local bond notes. However, the protests degenerated into chaos as the protesters started marching towards parliament.
Police blocked the demonstrators, firing teargas and beating up the protesters and journalists, some of whom sustained injuries. As the protesters rushed away, they engaged in running battles with police, throwing stones and chairs.
“We had to close shop because police will beat up anyone and we also feared that property will be damaged. For now we are closed,” an attendant at a Puma fuelling station in Harare said.
Among the journalists arrested were correspondents of the BBC and reporters from the Financial Gazette and correspondents. Another journalist working for Al Jazeera, Harugumi Mutasa, also sustained minor injuries after she fell as she ran away from baton-wielding police.
“They started beating everyone, including journalists. I tried to show them my press card but they would not listen to me. I have sustained injuries on my back, my hands and my legs,” said Christopher Mahove, a Zimbabwe correspondent for ANA.
Zimbabwe is battling an economic crisis that has seen businesses shed jobs and companies close down, prompting a spike in the country’s import bill. It was against this backdrop that the #tajamuka (we no-longer want) pressure group and representatives of unemployed graduates organised yesterday’s protest action.
“We have told him that we don’t want the bond notes; we want to ensure that we resist the government’s intentions to introduce worthless bond notes,” said Jacob Ngarivhume, a protest leader, after he handed the petition to Chinamasa’s office.
According to the government, the bond notes will be introduced as a way of dealing with cash shortages blighting Zimbabwe’s economy.
As a result of the liquidity crunch, banks are limiting cash withdrawals while the central bank is tightly controlling funds transfers from Zimbabwe.
Chinamasa and the central bank said the bond notes would be backed by a $200 million (R3 billion) financing facility from the African Export-Import Bank.
However, citizens fear that the government is re-introducing the Zimbabwe dollar – ditched in 2009 after record hyperinflation – through the back door.
“We have given them the petition and will wait for them and give them a reasonable time frame to respond to our demands. After that we will undertake more action to resist the bond notes,” said Promise Mkwananzi, the leader of the #tajamuka campaign.
Protest activity has gripped Zimbabwe in the past month as the economy continues to worsen. Pictures of unemployed graduates playing street football in Harare have been trending on social media.
Mugabe has already been given an ultimatum to address the country’s ailing economy by the end of this month or face another round of protest actions. The protest organisers sang denigrating songs against Mugabe and his ministers, carrying placards with messages advising the veteran leader to step down and blaming him for the misery of Zimbabweans.-IOL