Zimbabwe author held as streets empty on day of planned protests

Famous novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga detained after authorities ban demonstrations over corruption, economic woes.

Police patrol the streets ahead of planned anti-government protests in Harare
Police officers patrol the street in advance of planned anti-government protests during the coronavirus outbreak in Harare, Zimbabwe [Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters]

Award-winning author Tsitsi Dangarembga has been arrested in Zimbabwe’s capital as security forces patrolled the streets of cities to prevent anti-government protests called by activists over alleged state corruption and the country’s worsening economic situation.

The novelist was reportedly bundled into a police truck on Friday while protesting on a road in the capital, Harare, alongside another protester, carrying placards. Police had outlawed the demonstrations, warning that anyone attending will “only have themselves to blame”.

“Arrested! At Borrowdale. Ope it will be OK,” she said on Twitter shortly afterwards and posted a picture of herself sitting on the floor with another female protester.

“Looks like it was a plain-clothes job. Guy came up and tailed and filmed,” added Dangarembga

It came just days after her latest novel, This Mournable Body, entered the list for the prestigious Booker Prize.

Fadzayi Mahere, a spokeswoman for the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change party, also said on social media she had been detained for protesting in her neighbourhood. Mahere posted a video of police advancing towards her and telling her to stop recording them. She later could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, the streets were empty in Zimbabwe’s cities and towns as hundreds of soldiers and police officers patrolled, manned checkpoints and enforced a coronavirus lockdown.

“The security situation in the country is calm and peaceful,” Paul Nyathi, police spokesman, said.

Opposition politician Jacob Ngarivhume of a small party called Transform Zimbabwe had called for the nationwide demonstrations, but people stayed home after the protesters were banned.

Mnangagwa, who is under pressure to revive the country’s slumping economy, had described the planned rallies as “an insurrection to overthrow our democratically elected government”. He warned that security agents “will be vigilant and on high alert”. 

Zimbabwe is suffering its worst economic crisis in more than 10 years, marked by hyperinflation, a local currency that is rapidly depreciating against the US dollar and acute foreign exchange shortages. An estimated 90 percent of Zimbabweans are without formal employment.

Critics say Mnangagwa, who imposed an overnight curfew and restricted free movement last week to curb coronavirus infections, is exploiting a COVID-19 lockdown to stifle dissent.

As of Friday, Zimbabwe has registered more than 3,000 coronavirus cases and 53 related deaths, according to data collected by the Johns Hopkins University. 

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies