Police, military close all towns…as mass demos kick off, corona runs amok  

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Mugove Tafirenyika
and Jeffrey Muvundusi
STAFF WRITERS

SECURITY forces yesterday cleared the central business districts (CBDs) of Harare and Bulawayo — in the process preventing tens of thousands of people from reporting for work, the Daily News reports.

The major operation came ahead of today’s planned mass protests against the government, and as the global coronavirus pandemic is now seriously wreaking havoc in the country.

It also came after President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his government vowed to put down the planned demonstrations, branding their organisers as terrorists hellbent on destabilising the country.

At the same time, police said yesterday that they had unearthed a plot by the protest organisers to barricade the busy Harare-Masvingo highway and also burn filling stations.

Addressing the media in Harare, national police spokesperson Paul Nyathi warned that security forces would “deal decisively with any individuals or groups fomenting violence and sending threats or provocative messages” through social media.

“We reiterate that no demonstrations will take place in Zimbabwe on the 31st July, 2020. Those who decide to disregard the law, particularly national Covid-19 regulations, will have themselves to blame.

“Police are aware of various attempts to incite the public through the social media, with one group calling itself ‘31 July Peaceful Demonstrations (3)’ threatening to burn a service station in Mvuma … and to barricade the Harare-Masvingo highway and all roads leading to police stations,” he said.

Nyathi also claimed the existence of an armed 249-member social media group that was threatening to carry out the violent activities — saying “these will be treated as terrorists”.

The social media groups, he added, were also falsely claiming that the country’s security services were backing today’s protests.

This comes as political tension in the country has hit the roof ever since the organisers of today’s planned protests announced that they would mobilise citizens to demonstrate against rampant public sector corruption and Zimbabwe’s worsening economic rot.

On their part, the organisers of the protests vowed this week that they would go ahead with their mass actions, notwithstanding the clampdown by authorities on their comrades — amid ongoing raids on the homes of some of the demo organisers.

Meanwhile, hordes of police and soldiers swamped the country’s major cities and towns yesterday.
In Harare, there was palpable tension in the air as soldiers took control of security checkpoints, where they ordered all vehicles and people aboard Zupco buses to go back home.

To underline the seriousness of the operations, people who had been lucky to enter the city were later pursued and ordered to go home, as soldiers cleared the streets.

As a result, shops that had opened late due to their staff being held at checkpoints were left with little option but to close.
In Bulawayo, the situation was the same, with roadblocks mounted on all roads leading into the city centre — while scores of people were not only turned away, but also warned of the consequences of being in the CBD.

The atmosphere in the second city was also similarly very tense, as riot police patrolled the CBD and residential areas — warning against any attempts to engage in demonstrations.

There were scores of police officers on horse back, ordering shop owners to close, while also ordering people to go back to their homes regardless of the letters permitting them to be in town.

This comes as the organisers of the protests have vowed to go ahead with their mass actions with or without the green light from jittery authorities, setting the stage for potentially bloody clashes between the protesters and often trigger-happy security forces.

The demos also come as political tensions are rising in the country over Zimbabwe’s deepening economic crisis, which has triggered anxiety and restlessness among long-suffering ordinary people.

While addressing an extraordinary Zanu PF politburo meeting in Harare on Wednesday, Mnangagwa said sternly that the gathering was taking place “against a backdrop of the threat to our democracy, constitutionalism, and rule of law, independence and nationhood from terrorists masquerading as opposition parties and activists”.

“The planned insurrection of July 31 is connected to the violence and destabilisation that opposition elements have fomented since 2018, including August 1, 2018 and 14 to 17 January, 2019 — which led to loss of lives.

“I want to warn the organisers of this ill-fated demonstration that our security forces will be vigilant and on high alert to appropriately respond to their shenanigans.

“It must never be in doubt that the objective of these rogue Zimbabweans, acting in cahoots with foreign appendages, supporters and financiers is to stage an insurrection to overthrow our democratically-elected government,” Mnangagwa thundered.

In August 2018 and January 2019, several people were shot dead by security forces during violent demonstrations over the delayed release of election results and steep fuel price hikes respectively.

The government blamed the opposition and pro-democracy groups at the time for fomenting the violence which brought back into sharp focus Harare’s respect for constitutional freedoms and human rights.

Authorities have also claimed that the protests planned by opposition and civil society groups and activists were being funded by foreign governments hostile to Zimbabwe.

Mnangagwa, who was flanked by his two deputies Constantino Chiwenga and Kembo Mohadi on Wednesday, also accused protest organisers of endangering citizens’ lives by exposing them to Covid-19.

“Furthermore, in view of Covid-19 pandemic, their planned July 31 demonstration is a threat to the safety and security of our people’s right to life.

“Emboldened and inspired by the upcoming Heroes Day and Defence Forces commemorations, Zanu PF—as the people’s party—will never stand by and allow our people to be put in harm’s way.

“We will equally defend our independence and sovereignty to the letter and not betray the fallen heroes and heroines who paid the supreme sacrifice for the freedoms we enjoy today,” Mnangagwa said further.

Zimbabwe is suffering from the triple whammy of the country’s long-standing economic crisis, the negative effects of the global coronavirus pandemic and the severe regional drought which has left more than half of the population facing starvation.

The country is also currently under a rigid lockdown, which includes a dusk-to-dawn curfew, imposed by authorities in a bid to combat the spread of the lethal coronavirus.

This comes as the killer virus is now running amok in the country where it has killed more than 40 people and infected nearly 3 000 others.

It also comes as a number of senior government officials, Zanu PF leaders and prominent business people have contracted the deadly disease, having come into contact with infected people in recent days.

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