Picture: THE TIMES
Picture: THE TIMES

Zimbabwe's government shut down the internet on Tuesday in its effort to quell the protests that have hit hard over the past three days.

Social media platforms — particularly WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter — had become popular avenues to spread messages to encourage the protests and work boycotts. 

 Three people, including a police officer, died in Monday’s violent protests over the fuel-price hike, Zimbabwe’s information minister said on Tuesday. Independent sources put the recent death toll at five.

Justifying the crackdown,  information, media & broadcasting services minister Monica Mutsvangwa said:  “I can confirm that three people have died. The events of the past 36 hours have been characterised by well co-ordinated criminal behaviour, destructive and violent pattern which includes the murder of a police officer, Constable Mane of ZRP Entumbane, Bulawayo, who was stoned to death in cold blood and the injury of several others, barricading of roads and extorting money from motorists, reckless destruction of infrastructure such as bridges and tollgates, callous burning of a school bus and at least 30 motor vehicles, looting of shops in Chitungwiza Town Centre, Harare, Bulawayo and Kadoma…”

On Tuesday, the government deployed soldiers and police officers in volatile high-density   Harare and Bulawayo suburbs.  By Tuesday night, there were reports of armed forces  beating up people suspected of involvement in riots.

Mutsvangwa repeated the government’s earlier position that the opposition MDC was responsible for the riots, which she called acts of terrorism.

“The events of the last 36 hours were not spontaneous. These were well-planned attacks against the peace-loving Zimbabwean people. This terrorism is epitomised by attacks against police stations and attempts to steal weapons, for criminal and subversive enterprises.

“Pursuant to this nefarious agenda, the MDC Alliance activated its notorious terror groups which include the so-called  democratic resistance committee and paramilitary vanguard.” 

Harare looked like a ghost town on Tuesday as the usual bustling capital was deserted, with shops and other businesses all closed. There was a heavy police presence in the capital while the army was reportedly deployed to the high-density areas.

Mutsvangwa encouraged Zimbabweans to go about their business as normal adding that more than 200 people  have been arrested so far.

The shutdown is likely to continue  on Wednesday as the country’s largest workers federation,  the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, called for a three-day stayaway starting on Monday.

With the country in crisis, Mnangagwa met Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday as part of his four-nation visit. He is expected to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.