Twelve people have been reported dead and hundreds have been injured in protests which have wracked Zimbabwe in recent weeks, leading to a national internet shutdown, the brutalized and systematic beatings of civilians, and an uncertain economic future for the country under the leadership of new President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The protests began on Jan. 14 when the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions called for a strike over rising fuel prices. According to the New York Times, the price of gas had risen 150% at the time, the highest ever recorded in the country. Videos online show gas lines stretching for miles, while Zimbabwe civilians report sleeping in their cars over night to avoid losing their spots in line.
Massive numbers of Zimbabwean citizens took to the streets in protest of the economic struggle, with some sects and areas breaking out into violence and looting. The situation escalated further on Jan. 15 when the National Security Minister called for certain social media apps, such as Whatsapp to be shutdown, which turned into full Internet Shutdown. At 6:45 a.m.Tuesday, Jan. 15, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) tweeted that Zimbabwe “has just experienced its first total #internetshutdown” and that “No explanation has been given by either the service providers or govt.”
Despite the lack of internet, Zimbabweans again took to the street in protest on Tuesday, with the full force of the military against them. The protests and the correspondent violence continued in the coming weeks with the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) condemning the Zimbabwe military for acts of “systematic torture.” According to reports from the ZHRC, “Torture was perpetrated through beating the men with baton sticks on their backs while they lay on the ground,” while witnesses testified to “dragnet arrests without investigation.” Hundreds of Zimbabwean citizens have been incarcerated due to the protests, with legal experts and witnesses saying they have not been provided proper legal council or fair trials.
Mnangagwa, whose promotional economic trip to Switzerland was canceled due to the situation, condemned both the protesters and the Zimbabwe Republic Army, saying that “Everyone has the right to protest, but this was not a peaceful protest” and “violence or misconduct by our security forces is unacceptable and a betrayal of the new Zimbabwe.”
This protest and the mass media coverage surrounding it threatens Mnangagwa’s “new” Zimbabwe, which he promised following his usurpation of dictator Robert Mugabe in 2017. Despite early turmoil, Mnagawaa triumphed the idea of a revitalized Zimbabwe that would reach beyond the tyranny and violence of Mugabe’s reign. This new regime gave hope to Zimbabwe officials that international loans, which Zimbabwe is in desperate need of, would be incoming. However, the violence and protests during the 2017 election stalled international support. As Mnangagwa’s rule continued, Zimbabwe’s electronic currency called the bond note, dropped far below the US dollar. The bond note is used as a parallel currency in the country, creating the early difficulties that would lead to the economic protests.
As fuel remains scarce, teachers and other employees remain on the country’s Public Sector Union strike, hundreds remain unfairly incarcerated, and the economic/political reaction of Zimbabwe to these recent protests remains to be determined.