A heavy security presence in Zimbabwe’s capital Friday shut down planned opposition protests against the government's handling of corruption and the economy.
On social media Friday, Zimbabwean police said the country was “calm and peaceful” and urged the public to continue with their normal day-to-day activities “with the full knowledge that their safety and security is guaranteed.”
In Harare, however, armed soldiers and police ordered shops to close down early and sealed off all roads leading to the central business district.
While a handful of demonstrators tried to gather, security forces made sure that protests planned by opposition groups never got off the ground.
Makomborero Haruzivishe, one of the organizers of the protests, spoke to VOA by phone from an undisclosed location, saying he characterized the day as a victory for the opposition.
“For us, the demonstration was very successful. Because we are all usually victims of ZANU-PF, we are all victims of corruption, but when we call for demonstrations against poverty, against high prices, usually people of Zimbabwe will get into streets," he said.
"But today we made a strategy and shut down and went home and left police officers and soldiers to demonstrate on our behalf in the streets," he continued. "If you check the amount of resources that were used to deploy those merchants of terror by the panicking Mnangagwa regime, so we have delivered a score: There was people’s powered shutdown. This is just the beginning of weeks, months revolution.”
Haruzivishe is one of 14 political activists being sought by police in connection with the protests, which were not sanctioned by authorities, as required by law.
Tafadzwa Mugwadi, the spokesman for the ruling ZANU-PF party, said Zimbabweans snubbed the protest calls because of the coronavirus epidemic.
“It is ... clear that Zimbabweans (are) aware of the realities of COVID-19 and this is why they have spurned and literally have refused to participate in the purported demonstrations that had been called irresponsibly by merchants of death," Mugwadi said.
ZANU-PF supporter Samson Malibho said he was against the protests because they affect his business of mending tires in Highfields, one of Harare’s poorest suburbs.
“It’s a dead day, people are not moving around because of the opposition planned protests," he said. "There is no business activity. People have been ordered to remain indoors to contain the protests. Such events – protests – are useless and affect our livelihoods, we depend on informal businesses.”
Meanwhile, the trial of three female Zimbabwe opposition leaders facing charges of faking their abduction began Friday.
The women disappeared for two days in May and said they were kidnapped and beaten by state security agents.
Women’s rights group Equality Now released a statement calling for the charges against the trio to be dropped. The three – Joana Mamombe, Netsai Marova and Cecilia Chimbiri – face 10 years in jail if convicted.