Civil unrest spreads in Zim, dimming Mnangagwa’s overseas charm

CAPE TOWN —Perhaps we’re witnessing an incipient Zimbabwean Mass Democratic Movement as the main trade union rallies popular support and encourages protest at doubled fuel prices and the government shutting off of the internet. The tragedy is that on a somewhat smaller scale than South Africa in the eighties, we’re starting to see the Zimbabwean security forces respond with lethal force, killing as many as seven protestors while suffering one police mortality. Dozens of protestors have also been wounded with over 200 people arrested, including high profile critics of government. Up until early Wednesday, violence, burning and looting were endemic in the main cities, while shops remained shut. One can’t help wondering whether sufficient opposition to the ruling party might be garnered to eventually force a political re-alignment. The domestic situation will hardly help President Mnangagwa who is away trying to drum up investment in Eastern Europe and at the World Economic Forum. – Chris Bateman

By Godfrey Marawanyika and Brian Latham

(Bloomberg) – Shops remained shut and public transport at a standstill in the Zimbabwean capital on the third day of a nationwide strike, as Human Rights Watch appealed to the authorities to restrain security forces who’ve killed at least five people.

Thousands of Zimbabweans have taken to the streets this week, barricading roads and torching some government property after the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions called for the stay-away to protest the state’s doubling of fuel prices. The increase will add to inflation that’s already at the highest rate in a decade, amid a shortage of raw materials and cash.

Security forces have responded to the protests with live ammunition, rubber bullets and teargas, which they’ve fired at protesters and into people’s homes, HRW, a New York-based advocacy group, said in an emailed statement Wednesday.

“Zimbabwe authorities have a duty to maintain security during protests, but they need to do that without using excessive force,” said Dewa Mavhinga, HRW’s southern Africa director. “Those responsible for using unlawful lethal force should be promptly investigated and held accountable.”

US Senators Christopher Coons and Cory Booker said they are “deeply troubled by reports of deaths, widespread arrests, beatings and harassment of protesters” and called on the government to restore internet access after authorities ordered service providers to shut it down.

Critic arrested

Amnesty International put the death toll as high as eight, according to a statement on its website.

Police have arrested more than 200 people since the protests started on Monday, Zimbabwe’s Information Ministry said on its Twitter account. Among those detained is Baptist pastor Evan Mawarire, a prominent critic of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front.

“Mawarire has been taken to Harare Central for inciting public violence,” his lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said by phone on Wednesday.

The police condemned what they described as widespread looting since the protests started.

‘More looting’

“It appears there was a lot more looting overnight in Bulawayo,” David Coltart, a human-rights lawyer and former education minister from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said by phone from the city, Zimbabwe’s second-largest.

Zimbabwean police spokeswoman Charity Charamba said among those killed was a police officer who was stoned to death by demonstrators. Protesters also burned a police station, closed roads and looted shops in Harare, Bulawayo and Kadoma, HRW said.

Calls to the ZCTU Thursday morning weren’t answered when Bloomberg News sought comment on the final day of the strike.

Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa left the country Monday morning for a four-nation tour of Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan to drum up investment for his cash-strapped nation.

The protests are “almost fizzling out,” Sputnik News quoted him as saying in Moscow on Wednesday.

Mnangagwa is due to visit the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, before returning home.

“It’s ironic that he’s telling everyone that Zimbabwe is open for business even as his government shuts down the internet and costs business millions,” Coltart said.