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CAPE TOWN — With repressive governments, the demonising and labelling of fellow citizens opposed to them as ‘terrorists’ while applying ever-increasing brutal force is definitive. As are defiant statements that government will stand firm, regardless of all pressure. Right now, Zimbabwe ticks all these boxes while its militant president who ousted veteran party strongman, Bob Mugabe and then claimed to have won a subsequent democratic election, has skipped the World Economic Forum to hurry home and address a crisis that has shut his country down. While President Emmerson Mnangagwa claims success in his Eurasian trade foray, back home his ministers remain unrepentant at a crackdown that has cost 12 lives and left hundreds injured and/or detained. Mnangagwa’s spokesman says it’s “just a foretaste of things to come,” while his deputy information minister, Energy Mutodi, says the civic upheaval is aimed at creating a government of national unity, which “will not happen.” These are not the words of peacemakers. Let’s see how Mnangagwa, in his own words, restores “calm, stability and functionality”. – Chris Bateman
“In light of the economic situation, I will be returning home after a highly productive week of bilateral trade and investment meetings,” Mnangagwa said Sunday in a tweet. He said he will skip the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week.
Thousands of Zimbabweans barricaded roads and torched some government property last week after the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions called a strike 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 responded to the demonstrations with live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas while the government twice shut down the Internet to stem the flow of information.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum said Saturday that at least 12 people died, either from gunshots or blunt force trauma. A further 78 people received medical treatment after being shot, while 242 others were treated for injuries in hospitals across the country.
In an interview with the state-controlled Sunday Mail, Mnangagwa spokesman George Charamba said that government’s response ”so far is just a foretaste of things to come.” He blamed the opposition Movement for Democratic Change for instigating violence.
Police and army officials Saturday blamed ”rogue elements” using purloined uniforms to commit acts of violence, saying some could be retired soldiers or police.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions called a three-day national strike, though few businesses opened in the week after violence escalated. The strike was called to protest a 150% rise in the price of gasoline and diesel, now the world’s most expensive.
Mnangagwa has been visiting Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan in an effort to drum up investment needed to repair his collapsing economy. He has canceled the trip to Davos.
“We will be ably represented in Davos by Minister of Finance, Mthuli Ncube,” the president said. “The first priority is to get Zimbabwe calm, stable and working again.”