Zimbabwe Govt, opposition trade barbs over business shutdown, violence

Simon Khaya Moyo

Zimbabwe’s government and opposition are trading words over the recent shutdown down in the country that turned violent and forced an internet black out to curtail the flow of information.

On the third day of a call by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions for the country’s businesses to stay closed and citizens to stay in their homes, the spokesperson for Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF party seemed to acknowledge the suffering of the country’s citizens, many of whom heeded the call, in many parts of the country. Simon Khaya Moyo noted this in a press statement that he read out loud.

“The national economy is currently confronted with a plethora of challenges which have inflicted untold suffering on the generality of our people. Some of these challenges are genuinely linked to certain fundamentals that ought to be addressed.”

The shutdown, which started off peacefully with reports indicating no activity in the city, eventually turned violent with looters breaking into closed shops to grab food and other basic necessities, and exacerbated by the deployment of the police and army which reportedly started spraying tear gas and water cannons to disperse protestors in the streets, some of whom were burning tyres and throwing stones onto the streets to prevent the movement of vehicles.

Khaya Moyo attributed this to the opposition and other groups and individuals like activist pastor Evan Mawarire who was arrested Wednesday, referring to their actions as an act of “economic terrorism” aimed at replacing the government.

“The party is aware of subversive activities by certain individuals, political parties, civic and business organizations in pursuit of the regime change agenda.”

Khaya Moyo’s words echoed those of Zimbabwe’s Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa, who directly blamed the opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by Nelson Chamisa, who challenged President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s election victory in court.

“Threats to overthrow a constitutionally-elected government by force and install an unelected person as president of Zimbabwe will be thwarted. It won’t work. Pursuent to this nefarious agenda, the MDC Alliance activated its notorious terror groups, which include the so-called Democratic Resistance Committee and para-military vanguard.”

The MDC, however, which has remained largely quite on the issue of the shutdown, has refuted the accusations by the government and ruling party. Spokesperson for the MDC, Jacob Mafume, said President Mnangagwa should take responsibility for the chaos, after spiking fuel prices in the midst of a fuel shortage.

“The person who is responsible is the person who announced fuel increases at an ungodly hour, a witchly hour. Announced a 150% increase. That is where the problem came from. Then people were expressing their right in terms of section 59 of the Constitution.”

Despite government claims that the MDC Alliance and other groups have perpetrated the violence that also resulted in the blackout of the internet, Mafume lays blame on the heavy-handedness of the army and police, which is accused of brutally beating people up and even shooting and stabbing some to death. According to reports by the police and other groups such as the Association for Doctors for Human Rights, between three to eight people have died in the course of the shutdown.

“People have been provoked to great amounts of anger, and have unfortunately retaliated by expressing themselves against shops and other things. But what we are aware of is that our supporters who form the bulk of urban dwellers are a peaceful lot.”

Khaya Moyo and Mutsvangwa called for a return to normalcy in Zimbabwe and urged all organizers of protests to desist from mobilizing citizens. Mutsvangwa said all the protests are aimed to undermine Mnangagwa’s efforts to reengage the international community.

“They are intended to undermine (unintelligible), the ongoing re-engagement efforts of the president to market Zimbabwe at high level forums such as at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.”

But Mafume said all efforts by President Mnangagwa will come to nothing outside the dialogue that the opposition and other groups have been pushing for.

“President Advocate Nelson Chamisa has emphasized and reiterated time and time again that there is need for dialogue in Zibmabwe, thre is need for coming together of minds and a cross pollination of ideas. However, our collegues seems afraid.”

President Mnangagwa, who is currently on a four nation tour in eastern Europe before arriving in Davos, Switzerland, has dismissed the idea to hold talks with the opposition, saying he won the elections legitimately, but needs time to bring change.

President Mnangagwa who is currently on a four-nation tour in eastern Europe before arriving in Davos, Switzerland, has dismissed the idea to hold talks with the opposition, saying he won the elections legitimately, but needs time to bring change.

To this, Mafume said after 38 years in various roles in the government, time is not the issue for Mnangagwa and his Zanu-PF party.

“Having been in government since 1980, he has a continuous history of being part of the executive that caused these problems and part of his own executive that is trying or saying that it is trying to get us out of this trouble, unfortunately he had deepened the troubles of the people and a leopard cannot change its spots.”