'We can’t take it any more': Zimbabweans shut down two major cities
Zimbabweans reacted strongly to President Emmerson Mnangagwa's austerity measures that include a sharp price rise in petrol and foodstuffs, taking to the streets on Monday to call for the government to renegotiate or for Mnangagwa to step down.
Unverified reports indicate that two people had been shot in the suburbs outside Harare, the capital, as people took to the streets. An RFI correspondent in Harare reported that some protesters blocked roads leading into the city from outlying townships.
“Commuter minibus vans were stopped and commuters, including school children, were forced to go home, and riot police were then called in,” the correspondent said, adding reports of riot police using tear gas and rubber bullets in the suburbs around Harare.
“We thought we were suffering enough and that the government was aware,” said Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) President Peter Mutasa in a video posted to social media on Sunday, calling for people to observe a three-day shutdown across the country.
He said that after speaking to workers who believe the president does not understand the magnitude of the problem, they decided to call for the shutdown.
“Workers are very clear, we can't take it any more,” said Mutasa in the video.
Late Saturday, Mnangagwa announced a raft of measures on state television, including that petrol prices would rise from 1.24 US dollars a litre to 3.31 US dollars a litre, while diesel prices would rise to 3.11 US dollars a litre from 1.36 US dollars.
These prices would be reflected in the new taxi transport charges.
Zimbabweans had been promised that the country was “open for business” by Mnangagwa during the elections in July, but lines for petrol were getting longer.
“The price escalations, the scarcity of the US dollar, and the difficulty with which citizens had access to commodities during the Christmas period and the expensive school uniforms and irregular school fees all of this has been combining and building up within the citizenry,” said Rejoice Ngwenya, the head of Coalition for Market and Liberal Solutions (COMALISO), a Harare-based political thinktank.
“They've bottled up these sentiments and they've decided to find an outlet for them,” he said. “The nearly 300 per cent increase in fuel prices is the spark the citizens were waiting for,” he added.
Zimbabwe's second city in step with the capital
In Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city, reports on social media from the Matabeleland Institute for Human Rights showed photos of police in riot gear “telling people ' dzokera kumba' (go back home).”
There were a few kombis, or taxis, in the morning, Michael, an unemployed professional in Bulawayo told RFI by telephone. He said his mother returned from work at 13:00.
“Kombis used to be 60 cents one way into town, now it's 2.50 US dollars US one way people have nothing at the end of the month. They are paying to go to work,” he said.
Back in Harare, ZCTU economist Godfrey Kanyenze said that workers at the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) refused to go to work after transport went up to 10 US dollars per day, because they have been given 4 US dollars per day for transport from their employer.
“We've always had this false hope.They said, after elections, the economy is going to rise, they did a lot of PR around the so-called 20 billion US dollars investment coming, they talked a lot about the deals with China, with Russia, so they created their own problems,” said Kanyenze.
Anger transcends party lines
“There is credible evidence that this has attracted citizens across the political divide,” said political analyst Ngwenya.
He told RFI that he was going around the suburbs of Harare to gauge how people were reacting to the shutdown.
“And there's evidence that the Zimbabwe police were not really interested in interfering with peaceful demonstrators, until, as usual, the army was sent,” said Ngwenya.
Posts on social media showed army patrols in the Central Business District (CBD), while others posted unverified videos of warning shot being fired in the city's neighborhoods.
But Ngwenya seems hopeful that the opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) could come together with ruling party ZANU-Pf to find a political solution.
“Right now, Mnangagwa and the professors surrounding him don't seem to understand the magnitude of the problem; he has no capacity to stand on his own right now,” said Ngwenya, calling the president's decision to go to Moscow on Monday morning and then on to Davos, Switzerland for the international economic forum as a decision of someone on 'autopilot'.
Not just fuel issues, but food too
Zimbabweans are not only worried about getting to work, but how they will be able to feed themselves and their families.
“Workers are telling us they are starving, they are food insecure,” said trade union President Mutasa, in his video address.
Residents in Bulawayo went on a 'panic buying' spree, said Michael, whose friend owns a fruit and vegetable store. “People are worried the prices are going to affect their food.”
Although the trade unions have called for a three-day nationwide shutdown until Wednesday, other civil society groups are calling for people to bring the country to a standstill for the rest of the week.
If everything is shut down, how will people have access to food?
“Zimbabweans have a way of improvising,” said Ngwenya.