SENIOR STAFF WRITER
THE government’s critics accused authorities yesterday of allegedly hiding behind the soaring coronavirus infections in the country to trample on people’s freedoms, after President Emmerson Mnangagwa imposed a 12-hour curfew this week, the Daily News reports.
This comes as the country is bracing for anti-government protests planned for Friday next week, which the opposition vows will go ahead despite the authorities not sanctioning them.
It also comes as more and more Zimbabweans are contracting Covid-19 and dying from the lethal virus — which has so far infected nearly 2 000 people in the country.
The angry opposition and pressure groups told the Daily News yesterday that the curfew was allegedly meant to stop the planned month-end mass demonstrations.
Tough-talking MDC Alliance vice president, Tendai Biti, said the curfew was similar to an illegal state of emergence — as it suspended fundamental human rights.
“The new lockdown directive has nothing to do with the Covid-19 pandemic. It is about paranoia and authoritarian consolidation.
“We will resist the de facto declaration of state of emergency. We will resist the curtailment of our rights,” Biti told the Daily News.
Expelled former Zanu PF youth league political commissar, Godfrey Tsenengamu — who now leads the pressure group Front for Economic Emancipation (FEE) — also questioned the timing of the curfew, which he said would not stop next week’s protests.
“Is it a coincidence that since the day we gave notice of our intention to act against corruption, then suddenly Covid-19 cases began to rise?
“I posted on my Facebook account more than a week ago that they (authorities) were planning to raise Covid-19 figures in order to block the protests, and that’s exactly what they did.
“It’s not about Covid-19, but … them panicking about the protests,” the plucky Tsenengamu told the Daily News yesterday.
“The 31st of July is a do or die day for all of us who want nothing but to see a prosperous and corrupt-free Zimbabwe.
“We are ready to pay the ultimate price for standing against the corrupt and all the looters.
“They have attacked our homes and harassed our families. They are hunting us day and night … in a bid to derail the 31st,” Tsenengamu further told the Daily News.
“The authorities have said that they are going to treat us as terrorists and we want to know why they have taken that route. Are we armed? Is fighting against corruption and looting terrorism?
“All we want is for corruption and looting to stop. We want a good life for everyone, them included.
“But if it means that they are going to kill us for standing up against corruption and looting, so be it. We are ready. I am not going to give up or compromise,” Tsenengamu added.
Tajamuka/Sesijikile leader, Promise Mkwananzi, also told the Daily News yesterday that the curfew would not deter them from protesting on July 31.
“The whole lockdown is a political scam meant to scuttle people’s demands for answers on corruption allegations that lead to Mnangagwa’s doorsteps.
“How do you lock down people without giving them any means of survival? Other countries released emergency funds and provided people with essential supplies.
“July 31 protests should proceed. We demand answers. We demand accountability from these corrupt officials,” Mkwananzi told the Daily News.
All this comes as authorities have been accused of unjustly clamping down on some of the July 31 organisers such as Transform Zimbabwe (TZ) leader Jacob Ngarivhume — who was arrested this week on charges of inciting public violence.
On Tuesday, the government banned the movement of people between 6pm and 6am as it bid to further combat the rising coronavirus deaths and infections in the country.
As a result, only those people who are regarded as performing essential services — which includes media workers — will be allowed to move and to operate during the 12-hour curfew period.
“Covid-19 is thus no longer a problem out there, far and beyond our borders — rather, it is now here amongst us and in our communities.
“Therefore, this sobering reality means that we can no longer be complacent, and that requires urgent and decisive measures.
“These urgent and necessary measures will entail curtailing the freedoms we have always enjoyed, and had grown accustomed to,” Mnangagwa said when he made his announcement.
“From now on, these freedoms stand suspended and deferred, in the interest of all of us; indeed in the interest of our children and our nation which must survive, thrive and prosper beyond this pandemic.
“Accordingly, government has decided on the following measures which take full effect from tomorrow (yesterday), until further review and notice.
“All non-working sections of our population will be required to stay at home except for purposes of securing food, water and health services,” Mnangagwa added.
“With effect from tomorrow (yesterday), all business premises must operate from 0800HRS until 1500HRS, with the exception of providers of essential services.
“As of tomorrow (yesterday), all our security services must enforce a dusk-to-dawn curfew set to come into force daily between 1800HRS and 0600HRS.
“Only essential services are exempt from this curfew,” Mnangagwa also said as he unveiled the extraordinary measures which neighbouring South Africa has also imposed following a spike in Covid-19 deaths and infections in that country.
Meanwhile, political analysts also say the imposition of the curfew by the government was a double-edged sword meant to deal with both coronavirus and the planned demonstration.
“It’s a multi-dimensional issue that comes at a time when some in the opposition are agitating for anti-corruption demos. It can be understood in multiple ways.
“It can be interpreted as a response to demonstrations threatened by various opposition formations or a response to the escalating Covid-19 numbers,” University of Zimbabwe politics expert Eldred Masunungure said.
“Is it a response to health problems or a political crisis? The State is trying to kill two birds with one stone. They want to respond to coronavirus and the second bird is the political problem.
“The 12-hour curfew is very long … It’s difficult to engage in any meaningful business with this limited time.
“If you are not escalating the testing and the tracing it comes across as a political move,” Masunungure said further.
On his part, International Crisis Group (ICG) senior consultant for southern Africa, Piers Pigou, said while the government could be well-meaning with the curfew, it suffered from a credibility crisis.
“What may be a sensible approach from a health standpoint is inevitably interpreted through political lenses given the crude selective repression in play and the huge sensitivities about legitimate growing discontent and manifestations of protest.
“The government appears to be directionless and unable to instil confidence, yet intent on pursuing a trajectory that will compound the country’s economic, social and political woes,” Pigou told the Daily News.