HARARE – Businesses were shut and streets deserted around Zimbabwe on Friday as security forces increased patrols to stop anti-government protests called by activists over corruption and economic hardship.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is under pressure to revive a stricken economy, has said the protests constitute an “insurrection” by the opposition.
Police arrested opposition MDC Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere and novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga after they participated in small, localised protests in their neighbourhoods.
Lawyer Obey Shava was also detained with three MDC Alliance activists as he left a court in Harare, the Law Society of Zimbabwe said. Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Nestai Marova were on their way to report at the Harare Central Police Station as part of their bail conditions after they were arrested in May, accused of staging their own abduction.
In central Harare and nearby Mbare township – a hotbed of past protests – businesses, including banks and supermarkets, were shut as police and soldiers patrolled the streets.
“Workers were told not to come today just in case there was trouble,” said a security guard, who identified himself as Martin, having a meal of tea and sweet potatoes at a bank.
Security forces increased check points on roads leading into central Harare.
A journalist in the second biggest city Bulawayo said businesses were also closed with few cars on the road.
Nqobani Sithole, a lawyer, said dozens of people had been arrested by police, many picked up for allegedly loitering in western suburbs which were being patrolled by armed police.
Scores were killed during a crackdown on the last major protests in January 2019 and the government shut the internet.
Zimbabwe’s worst economic crisis in more than a decade is marked by inflation running above 700 percent, acute shortages of foreign currency and public hospitals crippled by strikes and a lack of medicine.
Critics say Mnangagwa is exploiting a Covid-19 lockdown to stifle dissent. Mnangagwa imposed an overnight curfew and restricted free movement last week to curb coronavirus infections.
The president’s opponents say he has failed to unite a deeply divided nation after much hope when he took over from Robert Mugabe, who was removed in a coup in 2017.
Mnangagwa, like Mugabe before him, says the economic crisis is the result of sabotage by businesses and an opposition funded by the West. – Reuters