Zimbabwe is headed toward the tipping point as the economy continues to implode in the wake of government clampdown against dissent.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government is struggling to put brakes on a multi-layered crisis with the International Monetary Fund predicting stagnant economic growth this year after an 8 per cent decline last year.
The country is also battling the worst famine in over a decade, which affects more than half of its 14 million people.
The food shortage has forced the government to release at least 5,000 prisoners to curb food shortages at correctional facilities as the southern Africa country struggles with a collapsing economy.
The move is meant to decongest prisons that have 22,000 inmates against a carrying capacity of 17,000, Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said.
Acute shortages of medicines, fuel, electricity, water and other basic commodities have left workers agitated, with the country’s main trade union already mobilising for a national shutdown.’
Political stand-off between President Mnangagwa and his main opposition rival Nelson Chamisa of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) over the 2018 election has increased tension in the country.
Mr Chamisa, who refused to recognise President Mnangagwa’s election victory citing rigging, said he has given up on dialogue with the ruling party after the ruling Zanu-PF rebuffed his overtures.
The MDC, which draws most of its support in the country’s urban areas, said it will now resort to protests to force political and economic reforms ahead of the 2023 elections.
In the past two weeks, the opposition has been rolling out spontaneous protests in the capital Harare and the dormitory town of Chitungwiza, which have been violently broken up by the police.
The worst clashes between the opposition and security forces so far took place in Chitungwiza, a town on the outskirts of Harare, where protests erupted on February 29 following a police raid on MDC vice chairperson Job Sikhala.
Police arrested 11 MDC youths after the clashes, and residents were subjected to beatings. The MDC said the police were now treating the party as a terrorist organisation.
“The police went on an orgy of violence in Chitungwiza, breaking down doors and barging into private homes in search of anyone suspected to be MDC leader,” the party spokesperson Luke Tamborinyoka said.
“No reason was given for the siege and the state-sanctioned violence.
“The MDC regards the siege in (Chitungwiza) and the incessant harassment of party leaders as needless persecution.
“The regime is treating the MDC as a terrorist organisation when it is a legitimate political party running the majority of local government councils.”
The Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), a human rights monitoring group, said the country was on the edge because of the economic and political crisis.
ZPP said a heavy-handed response by the police against the protests will only serve to inflame the situation further as citizens, especially the youths, were now agitated.
“The demonstration by MDC youth in Harare’s CBD and the Chitungwiza clashes are pointers to the agitation that is within the citizenry, particularly the youth,” ZPP said.
“If the government does not urgently address the bread and butter issues that citizens are grappling with, the country is likely to experience more pockets of such protests as citizens become more impatient.”
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), which organised last year’s protests over a steep increase in the price of fuel that shut down businesses for at least three days, said it was mobilising its members for a “national shutdown” to force the government to pay workers a living wage.
“The MDC has also threatened mass protests across the country,” the ZPP added. “Measures need to be taken to address the concerns of citizens.
“Already certain reports received by ZPP indicate that citizens in some areas no longer sit back and watch their rights being violated.
“Police’s heavy handedness when dealing with citizens is a cause for concern.
“They indiscriminately assaulted citizens including those that were going about their business in Chitungwiza on February 29.”
Peter Mutasa, the ZCTU president who was charged with treason alongside dozens of activists and MDC officials for organising last year’s ‘national shutdown’, said workers could no longer remain passive as their livelihoods were being destroyed.
“We must ask ourselves to say what we are going to do when we sleep without eating and our kids go to school without shoes,” Mr Mutasa said
“Should we continue to be passive just hoping things will suddenly become normal just like that?” He asked.
On Wednesday, the United States said it was extending sanctions against Zimbabwe for another year because President Mnangagwa’s government “has arguably accelerated its persecution of critics and economic mismanagement in the past year, during which security forces have conducted extrajudicial killings, rapes, and alleged abductions of numerous dissidents.”