By: Stuart White 04-02-2019
Categories:HRMC Articles written by Managing Director, Stuart White,
Like many of you I’ve been very concerned recently about the worsening situation in Zimbabwe. It all kicked off on Saturday, 12th January when President Emerson Mnangagwa appeared on state television to announce a shock 150% hike in the price of petrol. In his televised address Mnangagwa said prices of petrol and diesel would more than double to tackle a shortfall caused by increased demand and rampant illegal trading.
The president’s announcement came after on-going fuel shortages for 3 months which had worsened in recent weeks with motorists sometimes spending nights in fuel pump queues that stretched for kilometres. The immediate result was incredulity, followed by anger. Activists and opposition political parties blasted the government for being insensitive to the plight of the common man and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions called for a 3-day stayaway and shutdown strike that paralysed banks, schools, businesses and the stock market in Harare and Bulawayo.
The police and army came out in force, peaceful demonstrators were shot and killed and a news blackout quickly followed as the government attempted to stop reports of the demonstrations and the violent crackdown from leaking out. This was then extended to an Internet blackout from Friday , January 18th as the authorities extended a communications ban to cover e-mails. Zimbabwe's biggest mobile operator Econet Wireless said the government had ordered it to shut down services until further notice. "We were served with another directive for total shutdown of the Internet until further notice," Econet said in a statement. "Our lawyers advised that we are required to comply (pending a court ruling)."
Due to the shutdown, banks were providing only partial services and no cash machines were working, a Reuters witness said, while long queues formed at petrol stations and shops.
Official government figures initially put the number of people killed at three but lawyers and activists say the toll was much higher and that security forces used violence and carried out mass arrests to quell the unrest. Jacob Mafume, spokesman for the main Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition party, said he feared the blackout was a prelude to more violence.
"The total shutdown of the Internet is simply to enable crimes against humanity," he told Reuters. "The world must quickly step in to remove this blanket of darkness that has been put on the country."
Mnangagwa himself, in an almost unbelievable act of political irresponsibility, had flown out of the country the day after his announcements for a five-nation tour of Eastern Europe scheduled to end at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights is representing more than 130 people arrested following the protests. They include activist pastor Evan Mawarire, a prominent critic of former president Robert Mugabe who had led a national protest in 2016. He was arrested after encouraging Zimbabweans to heed a strike call from unions in social media posts. The charge sheet accused him of coercing workers to stay away from work and encouraging civil disobedience.
While the president was still set on attending the Davos Economic forum, attended by the world’s powerhouse politicians and businessmen, civil society groups, led by the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, wrote to the EU accusing him of using “murder of unarmed civilians as a tool to retain power” and demanded that he be barred from entering Switzerland unless he “immediately cease the ongoing human rights violations”.
An online petition to Amnesty International entitled “Stop police and military brutality in Zimbabwe. Ban ED Mnangagwa from Davos” on the website change.org, created on 15 January, which attracted 59 990 signatures in just three days out of a target of 75 000 signatures, read “The president of Zimbabwe, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has lost legitimacy. Zimbabweans are suffering and the government has launched a crack down on personal liberties. The economy is collapsing. Health delivery has collapsed, yet he continues travelling around the world in posh private jet. On 14th January 2019, protesters have been brutalised by Zimbabwean security forces. Live ammunition has been used against civilians. Emmerson Mnangagwa must be stopped from travelling to Davos from 22-25 January 2019. The international community must stop propping up a dictator.”
With this online petition seeking to have him barred from Davos, as well as unconfirmed reports of his own party stalwarts clandestinely seeking to have him impeached back at home, President Mnangagwa was reported to have been convinced by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to head back home to take control of the national crisis. You think?
It makes for sober reading. All this chaos, oppression and misery is being played out right next door to us here in Botswana. Whist we go about our daily business as free individuals, our shops full of food, our banks and businesses fully functioning, our economy fiscally sound and our political differences freely aired and debated in parliament, our close neighbours are battling to live from day to day, unable to make their modest ends meet and fearful of voicing criticism of what are untenable living conditions. Reports coming out of the country aired this week on SKY news claim that hundreds of people, including children as young as 10, have been killed or beaten but the true situation is unclear owing to ongoing suppression.
However, news blackout or not, the world can still see what the problem is, though the solution is much less clear. As the book title so succinctly put it and its citizens must echo every day, ‘Cry the beloved country’.