Zimbabwe Cracks Down on Protestors
On Jan. 12 of this year, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced that fuel prices would more than double in a country already plagued by spiraling inflation and intense shortages of necessities. Within days, demonstrators took to the streets in a “fuel hike strike” in order to voice their anger and dissatisfaction. Rioting and looting took place in several cities and towns across the country.
Similar to actions taken under former president Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwean security forces have been responding to the protests with brutal force. Streets in many cities are virtually empty due to curfews and fear of being beaten by police and security forces.
Late last week, an anonymous Zimbabwean soldier revealed harrowing details about the ways in which security forces have been enforcing the crackdown and dealing with protestors. The soldier relayed the “straightforward” task he was given by his lieutenant on the second day of the protests: “go into the poor suburbs of Zimbabwe’s capital, locate opposition activists, and ‘punish them.’” This punishment, which has been likened to “systematic torture,” has included severe forms of physical retribution including raping women and breaking the legs of those who oppose the ruling party.
The soldier, who apparently had no regrets about these actions, explained that his unit broke protestors’ bones by “pinioning them to the open back panel of an army pick up truck and then smashing it closed on their legs.” He also revealed that his unit was allegedly sexually assaulting at least one victim per household.
In a final warning to demonstrators, the unnamed soldier had this to say: “We are going to deal with people calling for demonstrations. They will hide under doors, under beds...And so we have to beat them. We stopped them. Don’t believe we didn’t stop them. We did. We will do this again.”
In a statement from Jan 26, Zimbabwean Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi stated that “the government wishes to assure the public that all allegations of misconduct against any of our security services will be thoroughly investigated and that the law will be allowed to take its course.”
President Mnangagwa has also vowed to further investigate the violence that has erupted since the protests, but few believe he “cares about the truth.” In a series of tweets from last Friday, Mnangagwa said the following:
“I believe deeply in freedom of speech and expression, and these rights are enshrined in our constitution. You only need to look at a newspaper or read my social media comments to see the level of criticism I get, and I welcome this...What we saw last week was the social networks being used to spread misinformation leading to violence. In response, the decision was taken to temporarily restrict access to prevent the wanton looting and violence, and to help restore calm…”
Mnangagwa’s reaction to these protests is making observers increasingly wary about the type of leader he is becoming. His entrance into power in late 2017 was welcomed as a “new beginning” following 37 years of Mugabe, but the strength of that conviction has certainly begun to deteriorate. Opposition leaders have even claimed that the “Mugabe type of terror” pales in comparison to what is currently happening at the hands of state security forces.
As a result, certain figures within Zimbabwe have begun to speak out and call for something to be done. On Jan 29, Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa, made a statement about the silence of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) over the country’s situation: “I don’t know how many bodies are supposed to be killed, I don’t know how, I don’t know how much blood is supposed to flow on the streets of Harare before SADC does something. I don’t know how many women are supposed to be raped before we begin to see the intervention of our regional bodies.”
So far, at least 12 people have been killed and more than 300 have been injured in attempts to quell the opposition. Many of those with injuries do not go to the hospital for fear of arrest. Even still, it is estimated that more than 1000 people have been arrested.