Under cover of Covid-19, Zimbabwean authorities are preparing to arm the police with state of the art crowd control equipment to “crack down on lockdown violations” although the real agenda appears to be to quash opposition demonstrations.
The opposition has called for street protests on July 31st given the deepening economic crisis and perceived corruption of state officials, and the demand will be that President Emmerson Mnangagwa step down. According to Bulawayo 24 News, people are fed up when at a time that basic food staples are no longer affordable, the government continues to splurge millions of US dollars on luxury vehicles for ministers, legislators, army officials, and senior bureaucrats.
The demonstrations are spearheaded by the leader of Transformation Zimbabwe – Jacob Ngarivhume, who says it will no longer be ‘business as usual.’ His call is being heeded by other opposition leaders such as Nelson Chamisa of the MDC, Nkosana Moyo of the Alliance for Peoples’ Agenda, and Noah Manyika of Build Zimbabwe Alliance.
According to Ngarivhume, “This demonstration is going to mark a turning point for this country. It is a defining moment. We therefore do not expect police to interfere as we have notified them.” Mnangagwa is increasingly intolerant of criticism, and the government has vowed to crush the protests. As usual Zanu-PF is blaming foreign interference, not the ills of its own governance and the desperation of a people who are left without a means to survive. Zanu-PF Political Commissar Victor Matemadanda has suggested that the protest organisers are being sponsored by Western powers.
In the middle of the most serious economic meltdown since the 2007/2008 economic crisis, when the government should be putting all available resources into feeding its people and curbing the spread of Covid-19 through acquiring test kits and PPE, they are instead authorising the purchase of brand new crowd control equipment. In a cabinet meeting held last Tuesday, Mnangagwa instructed Finance Minister Mtuli Ncube to arm and equip the police “to enforce restriction measures.”
While the excuse for such expenditure is ensuring people adhere to the lockdown regulations, the Minister is urgently procuring a fleet of brand new vehicles for the police, including all-terrain troop carriers, water cannons, buses, and equipment used by riot police.
It is obvious that a strategy based on the use of force against protesters who plan to fill the streets in nationwide demonstrations against the government on July 31st is in full swing, and the government is sparing no expense in spending on the equipment it needs to repress people.
This is what has been prioritized in the middle of a deadly pandemic which is proliferating in the country, and amid economic collapse and deprivation, where the UN says over half the population is facing starvation. Despite the threats of violent repression, the organisers of the demonstrations have said there is no going back on mass action.
The repression has already begun with raids by suspected state operatives on the homes of some government critics, and the rounding up of opposition members in the mass arrests for alleged violations of the lockdown.
The police have arrested over 105,000 Zimbabweans since March for unnecessary movement or not wearing face masks – also a convenient cover for harassment of the opposition during the pandemic.
As the country edges towards its most violent face off in recent years in just 10 days time, there seems to be few in government sparing a thought for those going to bed hungry at night, and the children of Zimbabwe that are suffering from malnutrition and some even starvation.
* Ebrahim is Independent Media Group Foreign Editor.