Russia's President Vladimir Putin (right) greets Zimbabwean counterpart Emmerson Mnangagwa at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, January 15 2019. Picture: REUTERS/SERGEI CHIRIKOV
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (right) greets Zimbabwean counterpart Emmerson Mnangagwa at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, January 15 2019. Picture: REUTERS/SERGEI CHIRIKOV

Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is on a five-nation European tour, on Wednesday spoke out for the first time on the deadly riots rocking his country, indicating he had no plans to return home immediately to attend to the crisis.

Mnangagwa will instead attend the World Economic Forum gathering  in Davos, Switzerland, after his official tour of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.

Political analysts and Zimbabwe’s opposition accuse the president of “galavanting” in Europe as the country reels in the aftermath of  violent protests against a sharp fuel-price increase. More than three people died, public transport was set alight and shops were looted in major cities Harare and Bulawayo.

Tension has been simmering in Zimbabwe for some time amid  shortages of cash, food, medicine and fuel.  Mnangagwa’s announcement of a 150% increase in the price of fuel before he left for Europe was the last straw for many.

On Tuesday the government shut down the internet and with it access to social media. Access was restored midweek. 

Zimbabwe's biggest mobile operator Econet Wireless said on Friday it had been ordered to shut down internet in the country until further notice.

Soldiers continued to unleash terror on civilians in Harare in a brutal crackdown that included the arrest of popular pastor and activist Evan Mawarire.

The Harare government says three people died in the riots but Human Rights Watch and the opposition MDC say the number is likely higher.

 In a statement on Twitter on Wednesday, Mnangagwa said he would continue his long trip “to attract investment”.

Mnangagwa met Russian President Vladimir on Tuesday in the first leg of his five nation tour.  “What will lead to a stronger economy is investment. That is why I travelled to Moscow, and that is why I will be travelling on to other countries in the region and then the World Economic Forum in Davos,” he said.

He condemned the protests, saying that the violence was not necessary.

“As I have said numerous times, everyone in Zimbabwe has the right to express themselves freely – to speak out, to criticise and to protest.

“Unfortunately, what we have witnessed is violence and vandalism instead of peaceful, legal protests. There can be no justification for violence, against people and property. Violence will not reform our economy. Violence will not rebuild our nation,” he said.

 The situation in Harare, the bedrock of the protests,  remained tense on Wednesday as the central business district  had a heavy police presence. Most shops  remained closed.

In Harare’s high-density suburbs, which are strongholds of the opposition MDC, soldiers continued to raid  homes and  beat up people suspected of backing or taking part in the protests. 

Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa called on the international community to engage with  Zimbabwe over the deployment of soldiers.

The situation in Zimbabwe echoed the “Gukurahundi genocide” of the 1980's as “military men fired on unarmed civilians, killing several”, said Chamisa’s spokesperson Dr Nkululeko Sibanda.