A BRUTAL government crackdown that netted leading figures in the growing
chorus of discontent with President Robert Mugabe’s government resulted
in a muted response to calls for yesterday’s planned shutdown.
Police on Tuesday rounded up #ThisFlag leader Pastor Evan Mawarire, Tajamuka/Sesijikile spokesperson, Promise Mkwananzi, Bulawayo East lawmaker, Tabitha Khumalo (MDC-T), among others, on the eve of the protests, in a desperate bid to avoid a repeat of last week’s shutdown.
Mkwananzi is out on bail, Khumalo was quizzed and released, while Mawarire, now the hero of the new democratic struggle, yesterday had his charges of inciting public violence changed to subverting a constitutionally elected government, before being freed on a technicality.
Chombo, the Zanu PF secretary for administration, told supporters at a Zanu PF Midlands inter-district campaign rally at Mkoba Stadium in Gweru on Saturday, to force companies and shops to open.
“I don’t want to always deploy police to look for people who go on strike. It is you, the youths, and members of the women’s league who should go and look for shops that fail to open.
“If a shop is supposed to open at 8am and you find that at 10am it’s still closed, where would you buy? If a bank is closed when it should be open and you fail to collect money to pay your rent, then it ceases to be a bank and we should amend that,” he said.
The result of Chombo’s threat was seen in companies reportedly issuing travel warnings to their employees urging them “to assess situation first”, before reporting for duty if need be.
Mobile telecommunications giant Econet, owned by mogul, Strive Masiyiwa, had it’s executives summoned by police to explain a social media hoax statement that seemed to excuse its employees from work to allow them to take part in the protests.
Econet legal counsel, Beatrice Mtetwa told NewsDay that police had quizzed the company’s bosses.
“Naturally, police assumed the statement was true. It was explained to them that as soon as, Econet became aware of the hoax statement, the company clarified the issue,” she said.
In Gweru, it was business as usual, as business operators opened their shops fearing victimisation by the Zanu PF government.
“After Zanu PF threats that they would descend on businesses that remain closed, I thought it prudent to open today (Wednesday),” a shop owner in Ascot suburb said.
Harare’s already hamstrung industry was the most affected yesterday, with a sizeable number of companies closing in apparent solidarity with the anti-establishment action. However, government schools and agencies were open for business.
A number of shops were closed in central Harare, with an uneasy calm in the capital that came to a virtual standstill during the first shutdown on July 6. There was a heavy police presence in the city’s residential areas, with major roads leading in and out of most high-density suburbs heavily cordoned off by armed police.
Epworth, the epicentre of last week’s violent clashes between police and protesters, was eerily quiet and residents said, while they supported the demonstrations, they were scared of a government witch-hunt as well and the losses that come with a day-off from their informal jobs.
“Many people think that a protest and stay away against the government is the way to go. However, the majority of people here are self-employed and once we stop coming to our small businesses, then it will be a disadvantage to us,” a carpenter, Andrew Moyo said.
Others said they feared participating because of the police brutality on protestors during the last protest.
Organisers of the protests, Tajamuka/Sesijikile, in a statement expressed concern at the State’s crackdown on its leaders.
“Stakeholders are also shocked that the same government, which has been sponsoring violence on innocent civilians in Epworth, Mabvuku, Beitbridge, Mufakose, Chipinge and Bulawayo, among other areas, which has been captured in the media, unashamedly points its fingers to Western governments. Tajamuka/Sesijikile would like to reiterate that it is not and will never be an organisation, it is you and I,” the group said.
“Those 2,2 million youths, who were promised jobs, hundreds of thousands displaced by operation Murambatsvina, victims of the long and short sleeve madness of 2008, families of thousands, who were killed and maimed by the Zanu PF regime, millions who are sleeping on empty stomachs and thousands sleeping in the open at Chingwizi”. newsday