Crackdown hits Zimbabwe, online and off

20 January 2019 - 00:00 By RAY NDLOVU and JAMES THOMPSON

From the streets to the internet - that is how Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government tightened its grip on power in the face of protests over a 150% fuel hike announced last weekend.
The crackdown, the largest of its kind in the country, affected all citizens.
At Sam Levy's Village in the upmarket Borrowdale suburb of Harare, the usually busy car park was empty.
The gym and several popular food outlets frequented by Harare's well-heeled were also closed.
At the adjacent Village Walk mall, a trolley from Pick n Pay supermarket blocked the main entrance on Borrowdale Road, the main road that leads to the city centre, to prevent entry to the property. A bakkie owned by a private security firm, Safeguard, drove up and down the deserted shopping mall's precinct.
The rich in Harare relied on the services of private security and armed response companies to keep a watchful eye on their properties. Those less privileged, such as Nkosi Moyo, whose shop was looted and destroyed, were left counting their losses.
Just four months ago, Moyo left his job and cashed in his severance package to start a supermarket business. He imported goods from SA, Botswana and as far away as Dubai with the little foreign currency he had at his disposal.
This month was when he had hoped to make his first profit, after having invested so heavily in his business.
"I saw people breaking into my shop from a distance. I hid in a house nearby and watched from a window. At first it was people I had never seen but soon people from the same community started moving in to get whatever they wanted. It's not them who started the chaos but the temptation was too high. But what they never thought about is that they were stealing from their source of livelihood," he said.
"It's like my life has been set back by 10 years. First, I don't have the capital to refurbish the rented shop and, secondly, stock worth $50,000 (R690,000) vanished. Even cash registers were stolen. I am down and out."
A three-day stayaway called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions on Sunday turned violent on Monday and shops, mostly in the townships, were looted by protesters.
Police and army this week descended on protesters in the townships of Epworth, Mabvuku and Kuwadzana in Harare. In Bulawayo, the townships of Emakhandeni, Mpopoma and Entumbane were among some of those the police cracked down on.
The government blamed the main opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change, and said the protests were "well orchestrated".
By Friday, 600 people had been arrested in connection with the unrest.
Evan Mawarire, leader of the #ThisFlag movement, was remanded in custody until the end of the month, charged with subversion and attempts to overthrow the government.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, a coalition of pro-democracy groups, on Friday said it had recorded 844 human rights violations during the stayaway, with 12 deaths, 78 people wounded from gunshots and 242 assaulted.
John Robertson, an economist and founder of Robertson Economics, on Friday said the stayaway had made an already bad situation even worse, with permanent company closures and job losses likely in the weeks ahead.
"The worst-affected level will be in terms of production. The retail sector may do more business in the coming week. But it is the interruption in internet services which was the biggest blunder. It affected cash flow and brought the whole commercial sector down. Even the government will see a loss of revenue that it will never be able to get back," said Robertson.
Long, winding queues formed at supermarkets as citizens replenished their supplies of water and other basic commodities. There was no bread, mealie meal or fresh vegetables available at the shops.
A manager at a Spar supermarket said it had experienced "chaos" with payments, owing to the internet shutdown, which resulted in banks going offline.
Robertson said the losses from business closures were likely to run into millions of dollars.
"But it will be the decision to close the internet that will have caused resentment among many citizens. The young people have no jobs and the only thing they have is communication, and that was taken away by the government."
- Additional reporting by John Ncube

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