Saturday 24 August 2019

Zimbabwe’s president returns amid economic crisis and violent crackdown

The government intensified its crackdown on dissent by charging the leader of the country’s largest labour organisation with subversion,

Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa (Natalia Fedosenko/AP)
Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa (Natalia Fedosenko/AP)

By Farai Mutsaka, Associated Press

Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa has arrived in Harare after cutting short a fund-raising trip to address the country’s economic crisis and crackdown.

He was welcomed at Harare International Airport by vice president Constantino Chiwenga, a former army commander who was in charge during the president’s week-long absence when the government launched a widespread clampdown in which 12 people were killed, more shot by troops and others dragged from their homes and beaten, according to human rights groups.

Mr Mnangagwa hugged Mr Chiwenga and chatted with him on the runway for 15 minutes. The president then told state broadcasters his trip to Russia and Kazakhstan was fruitful and will benefit Zimbabwe in the long run.

During his trip he met Russian President Vladimir Putin and asked for a loan.

Earlier on Monday the government intensified its crackdown on dissent by charging the leader of the country’s largest labour organisation with subversion, as the courts ruled that the shutdown of the internet was illegal.

Police arrested Japhet Moyo, secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, and charged him with subversion for his role in organising last week’s national strike.

The arrest and Mr Mnangagwa’s return come after a week of turmoil. During the strike, some people went on to the streets to protest against the government’s drastic increase in fuel prices.

The government said the demonstrations degenerated into riots, prompting a sweeping wave of repression.

Mnangagwa met Vladimir Putin (Alexei Druzhinin/AP)

Security forces opened fire on crowds, wounding many bystanders, and went house to house in some neighbourhoods, beating up many men, according to witnesses.

The government also imposed an internet blackout across the country. On Monday Zimbabwe’s High Court ordered the government to restore full internet.

The shutdown was illegal because the minister of state for security, who ordered the internet closure, does not have powers to issue such a directive, said the court ruling. Only Mr Mnangagwa has the authority to make such an order, said the court.

Over the weekend the government restored partial internet access, but kept a blackout on social media apps like Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter. The government alleges the internet has been used to organise violent demonstrations.

Zimbabwe’s capital gingerly recovered from the week of unrest on Monday. Most shops and businesses reopened, although many people are stocking up on food items in case of further unrest.

Activist and pastor Evan Mawarire has been jailed since Wednesday and has been charged with subversion against the government for which he faces 20 years in jail if convicted.

Mr Mawarire had used social media to support peaceful protests against fuel price increases. The case against him is a “travesty of justice” said his lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa. His application to be released on bail will be heard on Wednesday.

In the widespread crackdown, about two-thirds of the more than 600 people who were arrested have been denied bail, said Ms Mtetwa.

PA Media

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