Zimbabwe’s police beat protesters on the streets of the capital Harare on Friday after the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa banned a demonstration against its mismanagement of the economy. Riot police charged into crowds and tear-gassed Red Cross personnel helping the injured after a court upheld a ban on the protest. The demonstration was called by the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change in response to desperate shortages of food and fuel. Police violently dispersed MDC supporters soon after the court’s ruling — a sign of the crackdown awaiting other planned nationwide protests.
Mr Mnangagwa promised to end the worst practices of Robert Mugabe’s rule when he replaced the country’s post-independence strongman in a 2017 coup. But he has increasingly used force to suppress popular anger over rising prices and currency chaos. “After a few skirmishes in the [central business district], normalcy has returned to Harare,” the government said in a statement on Friday: “Security remains on high alert and deployed to ensure safety of the citizenry and security of property.
An EU delegation to Zimbabwe called for “restraint and proportionality, and for respect for the constitutional right to peaceful protest”. Mr Mnangagwa pledged to reform the economy when he took power and has won IMF backing for austerity measures adopted to end the money-printing that triggered shortages. But the government policies — such as the reintroduction of a local currency after years of reliance on US dollars — have increased the pain for ordinary people as prices soar.
In January, demonstrations over a sharp increase in fuel prices triggered a violent crackdown by Mr Mnangagwa’s security forces. Thirteen people were killed. Anger has deepened since. The salaries of even middle-class professionals such as civil servants have been overtaken by galloping prices. Inflation stands at about 175 per cent. Power cuts of up to 18 hours a day have increased the misery and forced many businesses that have not already closed to operate at night. Recommended David Pilling Zimbabwe’s crisis has reached breaking point.
This week, Zimbabwe’s hospital doctors’ association warned the government that the health system was facing collapse within weeks because “members are struggling to meet the costs of basic needs” such as shelter. Drought this year has left more than 5.5m people in rural areas facing the prospect of serious food shortages by 2020. The World Food Programme has said the country is “marching towards starvation” unless aid requests are met. The ruling Zanu-PF is plagued by infighting and has dragged its feet on political reforms needed to unlock international financing. The MDC also disputes Mr Mnangagwa’s victory in the country’s first post-Mugabe elections a year ago. The polls were marred by evidence of vote-rigging and military shootings of civilians.