HARARE – President Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu PF have been warned that the deadly riots which paralysed Beitbridge Border Post on Friday could signal the beginning of social unrest which could tear the country apart.
The warning came as police confirmed to the Daily News on Sunday yesterday that they were on high alert to deal with any disturbances ruthlessly, and at a time that angry civil servants are finalising their plans to embark on a crippling nationwide strike on Tuesday, as the government continues to battle to pay them their salaries.
MDC secretary general, Douglas Mwonzora, said the Beitbridge riots, as well as what he called “simmering discontent” among the populace with Zanu PF’s misrule could be a harbinger of worse things to come.
“The regime of Robert Mugabe is falling apart because of the simmering discontent among citizens. What happened in Beitbridge is only the beginning because there is more to come and we have predicted this in the past.
“We are in support of these revolts and we know the regime will fall before 2018 because government has no solution to what is happening, as well as the myriad challenges facing Zimbabweans,” he said.
Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn (MKD) leader, Simba Makoni, also warned that tension was building up in the country and that ordinary people were feeling justified to hold demonstrations as Zimbabwe’s economy continued to die.
“Clearly, people are very angry not just about their well-being, but also by the clumsy way that those in leadership are treating them. This is especially so if you look at the situation of civil servants where they just wake up to hear that they will not be paid this month, all this without consultation.
“For the ordinary man on the street, the situation is exacerbated by the economic hardships he is enduring, the banning of imports and the introduction of bonds notes. There is no doubt that tension is slowly building up.
“People also feel that they have to demonstrate their unhappiness … hence the Africa Unity Square vigil, the hash tag protests and recently the Beitbridge riots,” Makoni told the Daily News on Sunday.
Analysts also said the ongoing cash shortages and long bank queues, looming food shortages, the ban on the importation of basic commodities, an inevitable rise in basic food prices and the broke government’s failure to pay angry civil servants their June salaries did not bode well for continuing peace and stability in the country.
They said it was telling that normally pliant and peace-loving Zimbabweans were rioting against the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority in Beitbridge, after the cash-strapped government’s ban on the importation of basic commodities, which threatened the livelihood of tens of thousands of people and their families who live off street vending.
But Industry and Commerce minister Mike Bimha, who recently evoked Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016 — banning the importation of coffee creamers, Camphor creams, white petroleum jellies, body creams, baked beans, potato crisps, cereals, bottled water, mayonnaise, salad cream, peanut butter, jam, maheu, canned fruits and vegetables, pizza bases, yoghurts, flavoured milk, dairy juice blends, ice-creams, cultured milk and cheese, among other products — insisted yesterday that the ban would remain in place despite the riots.
“Government will not reverse the ban on basic goods imports simply because there are a few people demonstrating. While the decision could be hurting them it is important to also realise that it is in the interest of the wider economy.
“For a long time, government has not been taking action on these people while the country was being reduced to a supermarket. It could hurt four people but help 4 000 and that is not a problem because the few selfish individuals are killing the local industry.
“What kind of government would that be if we were to come up with a policy today only to reverse it tomorrow for the sake of a few selfish individuals?,” Bimha asked rhetorically when contacted by the Daily News on Sunday.
Meanwhile, while police said yesterday that they were on high alert to deal with any dissent, they dismissed the idea that they were working with soldiers.
“Everything is now back to normal in Beitbridge. Police have been heavily deployed and are patrolling the area. We are on high alert,” police spokesperson Charity Charamba said.
“Yesterday (Friday) we arrested three people and today we have arrested over 50 people, but the process of identifying the hooligans is still ongoing. The reports saying we got reinforcements from the army are false, it’s not a military situation. These people (rioters) are just hooligans.
“There was also not even one single injury yesterday. I just spoke to the officer commanding there and he confirmed that no one had been injured. We also did not use rubber bullets on civilians,” Charamba added.
Veteran economist John Robertson has been among the experts who have said that the decision to ban the importation of some commodities will result in the acute shortage of many basic goods, reminiscent of the 2008 era, as local companies had no capacity to fill the gap that was being filled by imports.
“Scarcity generates high prices and this often leads to a rise in black market, which will make life very difficult for ordinary citizens,” he said.
Robertson said the government should have put basic market fundamentals in place, to ensure that local industries were operating at full capacity before banning some imports.
“If we had enough time, perhaps industry could be revived, but that would all be dependent on fresh capital for retooling.
“Considering the fact that our government is broke and failing to meet its own wage bill, this capital can only come from foreign investors who, at this stage, would not want to hear about the indigenisation policy, government interference and lack of respect for property rights,” he said.
Previously seen as a regional breadbasket, Zimbabwe’s fortunes have plummeted precipitously over the past two decades, to the extent that today the country is viewed as a much-derided basket case.
So under pressure is the government, that Finance ministry permanent secretary Willard Manungo advised civil servants recently that their June pay dates had been moved to mid this month due to severe revenue under-performance — a dangerous situation that has caused discomfort, including among the country’s uniformed forces.
Friday’s Beitbridge riots temporarily forced the border post to shut down after protestors toyi-toyed for hours on the South African side of the border, apparently after being barred from marching on the Zimbabwean side.
Property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, including a rented Zimra warehouse, had also later been destroyed by the riots, with Zimbabwe police still to ascertain the exact extent of the damage.
Protesters were enraged by what they claimed was “insensitivity” on the part of the government which has made it almost impossible for people to import even basic foodstuffs.
On Monday, the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) issued letters to transporters threatening to seize any vehicle found to be carrying banned goods imported on open general import licences.
“We are appealing to you the transporters not to load any controlled goods for export to Zimbabwe when the owner has not shown you the proof that he or she has the import licence.
“Please note that your bus/combi/vehicle will be seized in the event that you transport any controlled goods in the absence of the import licence to cover the importation,” Beitbridge Border Post regional manager, BD Chadzingwa, warned.
Importers of these goods are now required to obtain licences justifying why they need the goods even as most local companies are operating below capacity and struggling to manufacture basic commodities owing to antiquated equipment and a lack of capital — raising questions about the government’s decision to ban some imports.-Daily News