People run at a protest as barricades burn during rainfall in Harare, Zimbabwe January 14, 2019. REUTERS / PHILIMON BULAWAYO
People run at a protest as barricades burn during rainfall in Harare, Zimbabwe January 14, 2019. REUTERS / PHILIMON BULAWAYO

Harare — Zimbabwe’s government on Monday night revealed that an unconfirmed number of people had died in protests that erupted in the country over President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s announcement of a fuel-price hike.

The government blamed the opposition MDC Alliance for the violent protests, the worst since last August’s post-election chaos. 

The opposition, led by the popular Nelson Chamisa, on the other hand, blamed the government as its headquarters were set alight in Harare. Unconfirmed reports indicated that the five people could have died after soldiers and armed police fired live ammunition on the protesters. 

Early on Monday morning Business Day witnessed trucks ferrying soldiers that were ostensibly being deployed to the high-density areas of Kuwadzana, Epworth, Glen View Chitungwiza and Mbare that have been identified as the hotspots for the riots. 

The country’s largest labour union, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) called for a three-day stayaway starting on Monday to protest against Mnangagwa’s announcement of an increase in the price of fuel by 150% as well as general economic hardships.

In a statement on Monday night minister of state for national security Owen Ncube confirmed that some people had died in the violent scenes reminiscent of the August 1 post-election chaos that culminated in a military crackdown in which six people died.

Protesters barricaded roads and burned tyres in Zimbabwe on Monday January 14 2018 as anger over the worst economic crisis in decades spilled onto the streets. Subscribe to TimesLIVE here: https://www.youtube.com/user/TimesLive

In that widely condemned incident soldiers were seen shooting at unarmed protesters.

Ncube made no mention of whether soldiers had been deployed but revealed that over 200 people were arrested in connection with the violence, which he said was planned.

He said some police officers had been injured in the mayhem. 

“The prevailing security situation in the country is a culmination of a well-orchestrated series of events by the MDC Alliance working in cahoots with NGOs, civic society, youth organisations, pressure groups and individuals.

“Regrettably, this has resulted in the loss of life and property including injury to police officers and members of the public. We express our deepest condolences to the bereaved families. Full investigations are underway,” said Ncube.

Daily publication Newsday put the death toll at five but this could not be independently verified.

While the country is in a quagmire Mnangagwa was set to meet Russian president Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to seek investment  to help Zimbabwe’s crippled economy.

The state visit to Russia is the first stop in Mnangagwa’s four-nation tour of Eurasia, after which he will head to Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum.