HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) – Zimbabwe’s President yesterday called violence by security forces “unacceptable and a betrayal” and said it will be investigated after a week of economic crisis and crackdown in which activists said a dozen people were killed.
President Emmerson Mnangag-wa also called for a “national dialogue” among all political parties as well as religious and civic leaders, even as some of them yesterday said arrests had continued overnight. He spoke upon returning home after skipping a high-profile fundrai-sing visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland to deal with the unrest.
Zimbabwe’s military was in the streets last week for the first time since post-election violence in August in which six people were killed. This time, people reported being hunted down in their homes by security forces and severely beaten. Doctors treated dozens of gunshot wounds. More than 600 people were arrested, with most denied bail.
Mnangagwa said chaos and insubordination will not be tolerated and “if required, heads will roll”.
He defended, however, the dramatic fuel price increase that began the unrest by making gasoline in Zimbabwe the most expensive in the world.
Authorities had said it was meant to ease the demand that had created miles-long lines as gas stations, with some families sleeping in their cars.
But Zimbabweans who had seen little or no improvement in the collapsed economy under Mnangagwa, who took office in late 2017 after the ouster of longtime leader Robert Mugabe, lost their patience. Activists and labour leaders called for people to stay at home for three days in protests. Others took to the streets, with some looting in anger or desperation.
Mnangagwa’s government has blamed the unrest on the opposition, despite witness accounts of security forces opening fire on crowds and killing or wounding bystanders, including a 17-year-old. “Everyone has the right to protest, but this was not a peaceful protest,” Mnangagwa said yesterday, noting “wanton violence and cynical destruction”.
Mnangagwa has previously said he is open to dialogue with the main opposition MDC party, which narrowly lost the July election and lost a court challenge alleging fraud.