Violent protests have shaken Zimbabwe since January 14, when a national strike was called to protest rapid increases in petrol prices. In the capital city, Harare, shops have been pillaged and police cars burned. Our Observer, who is staying at home behind closed doors, fears for his business while also decrying the difficult economic situation in the country.
The streets of the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, have become progressively more deserted since the Zimbabwean Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) called for a three-day general strike on January 14. This major trade union is protesting the government’s shock announcement on Saturday that it would increase taxes on petrol, which would more than double the price of fuel. This decision to raise taxes was a reaction to “persistent shortfall in the fuel market attributable to the increased fuel usage in the economy and compounded by rampant illegal currency and fuel trading activities”, said President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
For the past few months, there have been shortages in many basic goods in the country and the queues in front of petrol stations can extend several kilometres, according to French news agency AFP. In this context, the announcement about the increase in petrol prices could make people fear a general spike in prices.
In some areas, the protest turned into a violent uprising. At least two people were killed in the town of Chitungwiza, located around 30 kilometres south of the capital Harare, according to the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. Another person was killed in Kadoma.
“I was terrified that my shop would be looted and destroyed”
Nestor D. (not his real name), age 53, is a shopkeeper who works in the Makoni neighbourhood in Chitungwiza. He wanted to stay anonymous for fear of reprisals.
I haven’t left my home since yesterday. I closed up my shop and told my employees to do the same. Several different violent protests broke out in the city on Monday but today [Tuesday], the city is deserted and quiet as death. I saw several different groups of security forces patrolling the city.
The increase in prices, especially the hike in fuel prices, really worried me. We are in a very difficult economic period where people really struggle to meet their needs. In some ways, I understand the anger sparked by these announcements but, in another sense, I both condemn and fear the violence from yesterday. I was terrified that my shop would be looted and destroyed. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.
“Prices have become exorbitant”
Our team spoke to a Harare resident, who wants to remain anonymous, who explained the consequences of the soaring prices on local people.
In the past few weeks, prices have become exorbitant. Before, a two-litre bottle of cooking oil cost around 7 dollars (6 euros), but, today, the price has risen to 29 dollars (25 euros). It’s the same for a bottle of fruit juice, which went from 8 to 25 dollars (7 to 21 euros). The average salary in Zimbabwe is only about 270 dollars (237 euros) per month. No one can pay these prices.
Our Observer Nestor D. told us that the Makoni police station was attacked by a group of people and that several vehicles were burned. Several Zimbabwean media outlets reported this, as well, though we were not able to independently verify this information.
Internet hasn’t been working in Zimbabwe since January 15. The government body tasked with regulating the Internet has denied that it played a role in the jamming of networks, according to the AFP.
People have uploaded many videos and photos purporting to show these protests to social media but it is impossible to verify them since, due to the Internet outage, our team has been unable to contact the people who filmed or took them.
“Harare is like a ghost town”
Nigel Mugamu, a Zimbabwean journalist, runs the media site 263chat.
Before the Internet was cut, we were able to cover the situation and post several videos on our Facebook page. We filmed a person who was shot in Epworth [Editor’s note: a neighbourhood in Harare] and the deployment of the security forces.
Today, Harare is like a ghost town. I’ve never seen it so quiet. The public transportation system isn’t running and the shops are shut. The journalists in my team have told me that security forces are going from door to door in certain neighbourhoods in the capital to look for the people who led this movement.Yesterday [Monday], the situation was particularly tense. I told them to stay away from the angry mobs and the looting. According to our network, which is made up of journalists and bloggers, several other towns are also shut down, including Bulawayo, Mukare, Gwero and Victoria Falls.