HARARE - Zimbabwe police used water cannons and tear gas Wednesday to disperse demonstrators in the capital, Harare, who were protesting the country's new currency. The government says the bond notes are aimed at easing cash shortages, but economists warn that the notes will quickly lose value and unleash hyperinflation.
Police refused to comment on tactics used against the crowd, but activist Maureen Kademaunga says Zimbabweans will not be silenced.
“The economy is not going to change because people have been clamped down or harassed,” Kademaunga said. “… at some point again people will still start to say, 'Enough is enough. We are sick and tired of being sick and tired.’ So we are going to go back to the July-era where Evan was leading as the voice of discontent.”
Evan Mawarire led a series of demonstrations in July before he fled Zimbabwe, fearing for his life. He had been protesting the government’s failure to respect human rights and its efforts to prop up the country’s ailing economy.
After he fled, a few more protests were held before the police imposed a ban on demonstrations in September.
Wednesday's demonstration was the first since then, as police repeatedly extended the protest ban.
The protesters want Zimbabwe to continue relying on foreign currencies, mainly the U.S. dollar and South African rand, which have been used since 2009 when the southern African country abandoned its own worthless money.
President Robert Mugabe’s government says the new bond notes, which are officially equal to the U.S. dollar, will help ease a chronic shortage of hard cash.
But economists have warned that the bond notes are not backed by any government reserves and are likely to lose value and plunge Zimbabwe back into the hyperinflation it experienced in 2008.
Inflation at the time reached an annual rate of more than 200 million percent, before the government stopped counting.