Friday, January 25, 2019

Zimbabwe's Return to Chaos

Across the Zimbabwe, 12 people have been shot dead, hundreds injured and more than 1,500 detained in the disorder and the subsequent crackdown, according to assessments by observers and diplomats in Harare. Every day brings reports of further beatings, assaults, abductions and arrests by the police and military.

The immediate trigger for the shutdown – a closure of all businesses and non-essential services to demonstrate anger – was a sharp rise in fuel prices ordered by the government. Overnight, petrol went from $1.50 a litre to well over three dollars. The rise came against a background of a deteriorating economic situation that has already hit people. Prices of all commodities have soared in recent weeks, and a single cabbage in Epworth’s market now costs a dollar. Locals describe teenage girls forced into sex work; boys addicted to homemade narcotics

Mugabe’s successor, 76-year-old Emmerson Mnangagwa, a ruling party stalwart, pledged political and economic reform. Neither has come, or at least not rapidly enough to head off crisis. The early signs following Mugabe’s fall were relatively positive. Mnangagwa’s victory in an election held in July was contested but the campaign was considerably more free than any for decades. Senior ministers spoke of previous mistakes and how Zimbabwe was now returning to the right path. The former British colony was “open for business”, they repeated. There were signs that the foreign investment desperately needed to create jobs and growth might come.

The crackdown of the past fortnight has been the most extensive for a decade at least, and veteran campaigners in Harare worry that it is far from over. Significantly, the targeting of the opposition, union leaders and civil society activists has continued even after Mnangagwa cut short a foreign trip to pledge dialogue and punishment for security officials who committed excesses.
“It could be the start of a concerted effort to destroy any opposition of any type that could last weeks, even months,” said one old hand, recalling a campaign of regime violence in 2008 that led to 270 deaths. 
Diplomats admit it is almost impossible to work out where real power lies, among competing institutions, agencies, personalities and factions. The result is a sense of deep uncertainty, and fears that Zimbabwe is moving into uncharted waters where anything is possible.
“A hungry man is an angry man,” said Robert, 36, who has lived in Epworth all his life. “People wanted and expected a change but things are much tougher than under the previous president. The young people are not happy … There are no schools, no jobs.”

“Life is so difficult,” Marion Michasa, 40  said. “Right now we are so confused. We are still living with fear.”

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