Bulawayo, Zimbabwe | AFP | Troops and police were out in force in Zimbabwe’s second city of Bulawayo on Monday blocking a planned opposition march, three days after brutally dispersing a banned protest in the capital Harare.
Soldiers and armed police on horseback and in trucks patrolled the city’s central business district and most of the high density suburbs.
Using loudhailers, police warned people against joining the demonstration, which was called to protest deteriorating economic conditions.
Police also set up checkpoints on most roads leading to the city centre.
The authorities banned the protests, organised by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), after police routed protesters who had defied a similar order in Harare on Friday.
A Bulawayo magistrate upheld the ban after the MDC lodged a challenge, saying the propensity for violence was high because people were agitated due to the economic hardships currently being experienced in the country.
Police fired teargas and beat up several demonstrators in Harare on Friday after they gathered in a square.
They were the first protests since President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s decision to double fuel prices sparked nationwide demonstrations in January that were crushed by police with the loss of at least 17 lives.
“There is no doubt that the violence witnessed in January will be repeated if the demonstrations were to be allowed,” said magistrate Tinashe Tashaya.
“It is also common (knowledge) that violence which rocked the country in January 2019 was as a result of the same economic hardships the country is facing,” he added.
– ‘This is like Rhodesia’ –
MDC provincial spokesman Swithern Chirowodza dismissed the ruling as “a lapdog decision, which simply serves to massage Mnangagwa’s violent government”.
Speaking as military helicopters hovered over Bulawayo, an opposition stronghold, Mbuso Fuzwayo of the rights pressure group Ibhetshu Likazulu, said “the move by the government to ban the demonstration shows they are running scared”.
“They don’t have confidence in themselves. This is like Rhodesia. This is primitive,” he said, referring to the era when the country was under British colonial rule.
The protesters are angry over the country’s floundering economy and the jailing of a well-known government critic, tribal chief Felix Ndiweni.
The chief, who is revered in the western region of Matabeleland, was last week jailed for 18 months for allegedly destroying a villager’s property.
– UN concern –
Mnangagwa took over from long-time ruler Robert Mugabe in November 2017.
He won disputed elections in July last year on a platform of change.
But many Zimbabweans say the economy has gone from bad to worse with rocketing inflation, shortages of bread, fuel, medicines and other basics.
According to the United Nations, about five million Zimbabweans, or a third of the population, are in need of food aid.
“We are deeply concerned by the socio-economic crisis that continues to unfold in Zimbabwe,” UN Human Rights spokesman Rupert Colville said in Geneva on Friday.
“We urge the government to find ways to engage with protesters, and to refrain from the use of violence”.
MDC activist Mlondolozi Ndiweni, who was geared to protest, said there was no difference between the Mugabe administration and Mnangagwa’s.
“We don’t understand how this is a new dispensation, it smells worse than the old dispensation,” he said.