Zimbabwe church leaders call for soldiers to be taken off the streets

Church leaders in Zimbabwe have called on President Emmerson Mnangagwa to withdraw soldiers from the streets and restore the rule of law.

Zimbabwe has been plunged into violence following demonstrations against economic mismanagement and the high price of petrol, now believed to be the most expensive in the world.

ReutersZimbabwe has been hit by rampant inflation and shortages of basic goods.

‘The challenges facing the majority of Zimbabweans can only be resolved through peaceful, non-violent engagement,’ said the general secretary of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, Rev Dr Kenneth Mtata.

At a meeting in the capital Harare this week, church and civil society leaders issued a 10-point statement in which they rejected the use of violence and challenged the government’s ‘neo-liberal and austerity policy direction’, which they said had inflicted ‘severe hardship, discontent and social unrest’. It said that globally, imposing these policies without the full participation of citizens ‘invariably resulted in fragmentation of society, curtailment of basic rights and violent repression’.

The statement pointed to rising violence and said: ‘There is growing fear, confusion and deep trauma amongst affected communities and individuals.’

It said: ‘The leaders identified with citizens’ deep rooted anger, frustration and despair over pressing challenges and upheld their valid and legitimate right to protest. At the same time the meeting discouraged the use of violence, looting, destruction of property, coercion and other disruptive activities that can easily undermine the validity and legitimacy of the constitutional right to protest.’

Everyday life in Zimbabwe has been getting harder as the price of basic goods spirals. In the past two months, the country has suffered acute shortages of imported goods, including medicines, food and fuel.

Motorists can wait for hours to fill up at fuel stations, where soldiers are often deployed to break up fights over who is next in line.

On January 12, Mnangagwa announced to reporters that the price of petrol had increased to $3.31 per litre from $1.32 from midnight, but there would be no increase for foreign embassies and tourists paying US dollars in cash.

It was the final straw for some Zimbabweans, and violent protests broke out two days after his announcement.

Critics say the country is reverting to the authoritarian rule that characterised the 37-year regime of former leader Robert Mugabe, who was forced from power after a coup in November 2017.

The crisis will not be easy to fix. There is a severe shortage of dollars, fuel and medicines, while inflation hit 42 per cent in December, the highest in a decade. Foreign investors are, by and large, staying away.