Harare – While social media updates flowed fast and furious on developing unrest in the Zimbabwe capital Harare on Monday, the ruling party’s own paper The Patriot peacefully tweeted a link to its story on – wait for it – tips for growing winter peas.
President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF has been accused of turning a blind eye to the frustrations of ordinary Zimbabweans, fleeced by traffic police on a daily basis and now blocked by new import regulations from the informal trading that has been a lifeline to so many in the cash-strapped southern African nation.
Riot police were reported to have used teargas against some angry Harare kombi drivers who gathered on roads near a smattering of townships on Monday morning.
Some kombis had earlier stopped operating, leaving hundreds of commuters stranded.
The Herald reported in an online update that protesters in the low-income area of Epworth threw missiles at police and blocked roads.
Rocks were placed on the main Mutare to Harare road just outside the capital.
An amateur video clip widely circulated had what seemed to be the sound of gunshots near Mabvuku township. It has not been independently verified.
Protesters also gathered on central Harare’s First Street to demonstrate against Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko, who has been staying in a luxury hotel for more than a year and a half, according to watchdog @ZimMediaReview.
There were also claims that residents of Epworth suburb had been beaten by riot police and that police dogs had been unleashed.
Harare residents emailed, Whatsapped and tweeted updates and advice. “Take care today,” read a warning on the popular Bambazonke mailing list.
Facebook community page What’s Up Harare claimed there were “prolific” reports of cars being stoned.
Monday’s unrest followed protests in the border town of Beitbridge on Friday, when a government warehouse holding goods confiscated by tax authority ZIMRA was set on fire. Traders were unhappy about new regulations requiring them to get a permit to bring in basic goods from South Africa, including jam, wigs, tyres and mayonnaise.
With jobs in the formal sector at an all-time low, many depended on small-scale vending to survive, or (in the case of civil servants) to boost their incomes.
Doctors, teachers and nurses were to embark on a stayaway on Tuesday in protest at the non-payment of their June salaries, according to the APEX council which represents civil servants’ associations.
Mugabe’s government appeared to have been taken by surprise by the force of the anger, with state media blaming it on a “third force”.
Zanu-PF official Psychology Maziwisa sparked outrage when he tweeted that “thuggish behaviour” should be “ruthlessly crushed”. His tweet was put out early on Monday morning ahead of the unrest but was later seized upon by critics who blame Mugabe’s government for the crisis.
Said @Mseyamwa: “Quotable quotes. When time comes on whose side were u? we will ask. What peace with police all over & looting?”
MDC spokesperson @GutuObert said in a tweet: “This is the end game. Everything that can go wrong has since gone wrong.”