Zimbabweans ignored calls by self-appointed activists and opposition leaders for illegal demonstrations yesterday, with police managing to find just seven placard wavers to arrest across the entire country, as business life continued near normal in suburbs although curtailed in city centres and industrial areas.
Four of the arrests were in Chegutu, two in Harare and one in Bulawayo, with those arrested carrying placards inscribed with political messages the police allege were meant to cause public disorder.
The police confirmed there were no reports of violence.
The demonstrations had been called by self-styled activists and endorsed by some political parties with the overt aim of demonstrating against corruption and the covert aim of effecting change of Government. Social media platforms had been awash with calls to join, and there is growing evidence of significant support, including financial support, for those who said they would organise and lead protests.
Security forces had patrols out and the roadblocks near city and town centres were continuing with the rigid enforcement of lockdown regulations seen in recent days as the Zimbabwean Covid-19 case-load sped to 3 169 last night with 2 109 being local cases and 67 deaths.
The growing rate of infection was a primary reason why Government and health authorities were not prepared to authorise any gatherings.
Most shops in city and town centres, and many factories in industrial sites, remained closed, partly because owners and managers were averse to risk and partly because public transport was unavailable. However, suburban supermarkets and many other suburban businesses remained open as normal, with even sections of the informal sector, including illegal money changers, busy.
In a statement, national police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said security services would remain firm on the ground to decisively deal with any unruly elements to preserve peace.
He identified those arrested as Tsitsi Dangarembwa and a male companion in Borrowdale, Harare, and Mzingaye Mathew Thaka in Bulawayo. Chegutu saw the highest number of arrests, four: Edward Dzeka, MDC Alliance councillor for Ward 9, and Lloyd Kashiri (41), Nkulumani Matobo (35) and Isheanesu Chimunyemba (26).
“The ZRP wishes to advise the public that the security situation in the country is calm and peaceful. The public should continue with normal day to day activities with the full knowledge that their safety and security is guaranteed.
“The ZRP applauds Zimbabweans for the peaceful environment, which characterised all parts of the country. No reports of violence were received by the police and security services, as they continued to conduct patrols, roadblocks and checkpoints to ensure safety, security and health of Zimbabweans.”
In Harare’s city centre only essential services and businesses were open, with the rest of those exempted deciding to close for the day.
Police at checkpoints on the edge of the city centre were carrying out the intensified checks seen in the past few days, but with fewer people trying to drive into the city centre the queues at the vetting points were shorter. Several hundred motorists were turned back for being unable to show they were in an exempted group.
But it was business as usual in most of the suburbs in Harare with residents going about their normal day to day activities and many, with a day off work, taking the opportunity to do some shopping with longer queues seen outside supermarkets.
One resident of Kuwadzana who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity said there was no time for demonstrations; rather people should work hard to make this country prosper. He said there were always productive channels to address grievances, which did not result in destruction of property and at times loss of lives.
“Zimbabweans have shown that they are now mature politically. Imagine wasting time marching in the streets instead of just sitting down with authorities and table our grievances. I think peace-loving citizens would opt for the dialogue route than a violent way of expressing themselves.
“Previous demonstrations have resulted in the destruction of property and loss of lives. Who would want to lose his or her life when there are better and peaceful ways of expressing ourselves. I commend the people of Zimbabwe for disregarding calls for an illegal demonstration.”
Tapiwa Chigumba, a welder in Dzivarasekwa, said there was no way he could have put participating in demonstrations over his work.
“As you can see, I am busy here with my colleagues making steel gates and window frames for our clients. We will never participate in such demonstrations because we have better and productive things to do.
“We are here to earn a living and feed our families. What are we to gain from marching in the streets? Those hours, which we would have wasted will never come back. Only those who do not know how to use time are the ones who do misguided demonstrations,” he said.
At White House shopping centre in White Clife suburb, shops were open and the situation was calm. Fish mongers and other vendors could be seen doing their business, as usual.
While the situation generally remained calm all over Chitungwiza with citizens going about their daily activities, there was a reported incident at Unit C intersection, where some rogue youths set fire to tyres shortly before 5am yesterday, but by the time the curfew ended they had gone.
In St Mary’s, security forces dispersed people milling around Chigovanyika Shopping Centre but then allowed smaller groups to go shopping. In Seke, people were also going about their business with shops including Ziyaduma open for business as usual.
Zupco buses and commuter omnibuses were plying their usual routes as usual, although there were few people travelling.
At Chigovanyika Shopping Centre, Huruyadzo, Zengeza 2 and 4 business centres it was business as usual with supermarkets open. Vendors were selling their products while the illegal money changers could be seen milling around at their usual hotspots and in some instances running away each time they saw security officers’ vehicles on patrol.
In Bindura, Mashonaland Central, there were few people (mostly essential service providers) in the town centre and most shops there were closed.
In Mashonaland West people were going about their usual businesses, as peace prevailed in all seven districts. It was also business as usual in Manicaland. Supermarkets and pharmacies were open. However, most people chose to stay at home.
In Kariba, people also went about their business amid heavy security personnel presence.
People continued with their work while others did their end of month shopping, which resulted in long queues in supermarkets in the town.
People interviewed said the economic situation in the country required that energy be expended on productive things.
Nyamhunga suburb, which is the defacto Kariba Town was a hive of activity as people rushed to beat the curfew deadline but observing health regulations.
Peace prevailed in Mutare yesterday with no incidence of violence or skirmishes throughout the day.
Police and military personnel maintained heavy presence in all suburbs, as well as in the city centre. At roadblocks leading into the city centre, security forces were strict in allowing only those motorists and Zupco passengers with exemption letters to pass.
Human and vehicular traffic was very low in the city centre throughout the day with only a few supermarkets and food courts open for business. Most small shops and banks did not open. However, those that opened their shops carried out their business normally.
Matabeleland South ignored calls for protests. It was business as usual and no incidents were reported.
In Gwanda, the provincial capital there were security patrols but few people went into the town centre where most shops were open.
The situation was the same in Plumtreee and Beitridge towns, where activity at the ports was running smoothly.
The borders remain open only for commercial cargo, repatriations of citizens and remains of citizens of Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe for burial in their respective countries.
Matabelelaland South is home to four ports of entries with Botswana (Mlambaphele, Mpoengs, Maitangwe and Plumtreee) and Beitbridge which is the link to South Africa.