The government in Zimbabwe has accused the opposition of orchestrating violent protests in which at least a dozen people have been killed and scores more injured.
Protesters have clashed repeatedly with security forces in the capital Harare and the southern city of Bulawayo since President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the successor to long-time ruler Robert Mugabe, announced a steep increase in fuel prices earlier this month.
As the security crackdown continues, The Week examines the claims made by Zimbabwe’s governing Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) party.
What has the government said?
Mnangagwa claims the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is behind the violence and looting that has accompanied the protests, as part of a campaign to undermine his rule following his narrow victory in a disputed election in July.
“The MDC leadership has been consistently pushing out the message that they will use violent street action to overturn the results of [last year’s] ballot,” the president’s spokesperson, George Charamba, told the state-owned The Sunday Mail newspaper.
“It is a false narrative to suggest a causal link between the fuel price review and the violence unleashed in the streets by the MDC and its allies,” Charamba said, adding that the MDC leadership and its affiliate organisations will be held “fully accountable”.
What has the opposition said?
The MDC has denied the claims that it is behind the violence and has accused authorities of using the protests as an excuse to attack the country’s largest opposition party and its members.
“It was not the MDC that called for either the stayaway or the protests, we don’t believe in violence,” said the MDC’s president, Nelson Chamisa.
The opposition party says more than 750 people have been arbitrarily arrested, including five of its MPs and nine of its councillors, reports South Africa’s Eyewitness News.
“Clearly, being in the MDC is being criminalised,” Chamisa said. “This has nothing to do with the stayaway. It has all to do with a vindictive agenda, to terrorise citizens and victimise them by subjecting them to fear.”
What are the facts?
On 12 January, President Mnangagwa announced that petrol and diesel prices would more than double, as the country struggles with its worst fuel shortage in a decade.
In response, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions called a three-day general strike, and thousands of people took to the street to protest against the soaring cost of living.
The demonstrations began in Harare and Bulawayo before spreading to other cities across the country, and quickly turned violent.
Looting and property destruction has been widespread, with protesters setting fire to tyres and blockading roads. Officials said that a police officer had been stoned to death.
In response, the government deployed military personnel who fired live ammunition and tear gas at demonstrators. Internet services were also shut down for several days to prevent people from supporting or organising protests.
The security forces said three people were killed during the clashes, but according to the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, at least 12 were killed and a further 78 were treated for gunshot injuries.
The organisation also recorded at least 242 cases of assault, torture or inhumane and degrading treatment, and 466 arbitrary arrests and detentions.
A report published by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) last week provided evidence of systematic abuses by security forces.
The ZHRC said that the authorities were using “brute, excessive and disproportionate force in most circumstances, thereby causing avoidable loss of life and also worsening the situation”.
Amnesty International has also documented hundreds of human rights violations by police officers and soldiers.
“The onslaught by the security forces in Zimbabwe has seen people killed, arbitrarily arrested, abducted, reportedly raped and jailed on suspicion of taking part in the protests. Children as young as 11 years old have been detained on frivolous charges,” said Amnesty’s regional director for Southern Africa, Deprose Muchena.
A soldier involved in the crackdown told The Daily Telegraph that troops had been ordered to go into the poor suburbs of Zimbabwe’s capital in order to locate opposition activists and “punish them”.
The man admitted to beating MDC activists, breaking their legs, and raping a woman.
“Our lieutenant told us to go in and find them. We got our information of where the Movement for Democratic Change activists live from members of our party, Zanu-PF,” he told the newspaper.
Who is right?
The Zimbabwean government has provided no evidence to support its claim that the MDC is behind the violent demonstrations that broke out earlier this month.
Reports from local and international human rights groups and accounts from those involved in the crackdown indicate that the security forces are responsible for the worst of the bloodshed. – Source: The Week