Businesses in Zimbabwe have been shut and streets deserted early in the capital, Harare, as security forces have increased patrols to stop anti-government protests, called by activists over corruption and economic hardship.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is under pressure to revive a stricken economy, has said that the protests constitute an “insurrection” by the opposition.
In central Harare and nearby Mbare township – a hotbed of past protests – businesses, including banks and supermarkets, were shut as police and soldiers patrolled the streets.
“Workers were told not to come today just in case there was trouble,” said a security guard who identified himself as Martin, as he took a meal of tea and sweet potatoes at a bank.
The security forces increased checkpoints on roads leading in to central Harare. A journalist in the second biggest city, Bulawayo, said businesses there, too, were closed, with few cars on the road.
Scores were killed during a crackdown on the last major protests in Zimbabwe in January 2019 and the government closed down the internet.
Zimbabwe’s worst economic crisis in more than a decade has been marked by inflation running above 700%, acute shortages of foreign currency and public hospitals crippled by strikes and a lack of medicines.
Critics say Mnangagwa is exploiting a COVID-19 lockdown to stifle dissent. Mnangagwa imposed an overnight curfew and restricted free movement last week to curb coronavirus infections.
The president’s opponents say he has failed to unite a deeply divided nation after much hope when he took over from Robert Mugabe, who was removed in a coup in 2017.
Mnangagwa, like Mugabe before him, says the economic crisis is the result of sabotage by businesses and an opposition funded by the West.