Zimbabweans stayed at home on Wednesday while foreign banks and most businesses in the capital shut down operations, in one of the biggest — and peaceful — stay-away actions in nearly a decade.
The national stay-away day, fronted by social-media movement #ThisFlag, followed violent clashes between taxi drivers and police on Monday that led to the arrest of 95 people. It also coincides with a strike by doctors, teachers and nurses over delayed salaries.
The southern African nation has been gripped by a devastating drought, adding to the problems of high unemployment and an acute shortage of cash that has angered its citizens.
#ThisFlag was started in April by 39-year-old Zimbabwean pastor Evan Mawarire to protest against the government "for allowing corruption, injustice and poverty."
The campaign has attracted thousands of followers, who have been speaking out against government excesses. Tuesday's stay-away was organized via Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp.
"We have got to a point now where everyone is saying enough is enough. The response has been outstanding... this is what we all needed, something that we can all do together," Mawarire told Reuters TV when asked about the success of the stay-away.
State telecoms regulator POTRAZ said in a statement it would arrest people sending "subversive" messages that cause unrest.
In the volatile township of Mufakose, to the west of Harare, hundreds of youths barricaded roads to stop people from going to work, Reuters witnesses said. The police arrested a dozen people.
Local units of Barclays and Standard Chartered shut their branches in central Harare while clothing retailers Edgars Stores and Truworths also closed stores.
Siyaso, one of the biggest and oldest informal markets in Mbare township near central Harare was also shut down and there were few vehicles on Harare's roads.
Government departments were open while supermarkets like Pick'n'Pay, Ok Zimbabwe and Choppies reported low business.
"As you can see there are very few customers here. It is not usual for a Wednesday to have these small volumes," a supervisor at an OK Zimbabwe store in the central business district said.
Local private media said Zimbabweans in other major cities had also stayed at home, with most businesses closed. Zimbabwe last witnessed a stay-away in April 2007.
Mugabe was on Wednesday attending a scheduled meeting of his ZANU-PF's politburo, the party's top executive organ. Party spokesman Simon Khaya-Moyo declined to say whether ZANU-PF would discuss the recent protests.