By Anna Chibamu
BUSINESS in Harare remained low on Thursday as cautious locals chose to remain at home following a tempestuous three-day national job stay away to protest government’s hike in fuel prices.
The stay away was called for Monday to Wednesday by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), NGOs and individuals but seemed to have spilled into day four as most shops remained closed out of caution.
A lot of businesses were looted with buildings vandalised as angry locals violently protested the more than 100 percent hike in fuel prices coupled with worsening poverty caused by a recent increase in prices of goods and services.
City branches of mobile telecoms firms such as Econet, Telecel and NetOne remained closed following government’s decision to partially open the internet while social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube remained blocked.
Supermarket chain, OK, banks and shops such as Edgars Stores, TV Sales and Hire and many others were also closed.
However, fuel stations started selling the scarce product as armed officers from the army maintained their presence following initial threats to burn down service stations by protestors.
Vendors who spoke to NewZimbabwe.com complained about police and army brutality after they were beaten up when they were returning home on foot Monday.
A male vendor who could not sit up straight after he was beaten up on his buttocks by police while walking to his Mbare home said he was injured but had no money to pay for treatment if he went to the hospital.
“We sell bananas in town. We were coming from work searching for transport and police pounced and beat us up. I cannot even sit properly because my whole body is in pain,” he said.
The low turnout in the country’s busiest CBD was also linked to transport challenges as most private commuter transport operators were immobile due to fuel shortages.
Kombi operators said they had no choice but to increase fares from $1.50 to at least $5 because government has failed to provide fuel for public service transport.
According to one driver, fuel was readily available on the black market at between $30 and $45 for a 5 litre quantity.
The countrywide protests were the first such major resistance to unpopular government policy since the food protests of 1998.
Three people were confirmed dead by police as a result of the stay away skirmishes while dozens were treated for various injuries. 600 were arrested countrywide for allegedly taking part in the violent protests.
Government has blamed the disturbances on the opposition MDC, NGOs as well as government critics who all deny any responsibility.
All images by Idah Mhetu