Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa has criticised the country’s leader over the handling of protests against the hike in fuel prices, saying that he was no different to his predecessor, Robert Mugabe.
Growing frustration over rising inflation, a severe currency crisis and fuel lines that stretch for kilometres finally snapped after Mnangagwa announced a week ago that fuel prices would more than double, making petrol in Zimbabwe the most expensive in the world.
Civic leaders called for Zimbabweans to stay at home for three days in protest. Other people took to the streets. Some looted, in desperation or anger. The military was called in and, with Mnangagwa leaving on an extended overseas trip, the hardline former military commander and Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga was left in charge. A crackdown began.
Activists say at least 12 people were killed after police violently repressed the protests.
In what critics have called an attempt to cover up abuses, the government in the past few days has imposed an internet shutdown across the country, ordering internet service providers and telecommunications firms to block popular social media apps.
The government blames the unrest on the opposition and calls it “terrorism”.
The main opposition MDC party, which had contested Mnangagwa’s narrow election win last year in court, “is hoping to influence the international community’s view of Zimbabwe.
Speaking to the BBC, Mr Chamisa – who leads the MDC party – said the excitement that had followed the resignation of Mr Mugabe had died down.
“The only difference is that Mr Mnangagwa seems to be worse, worse because he’s using the army against protesters, against demonstrators but also against the MDC in a very bad way… In fact, all the enthusiasm and euphoria that gripped the nation when Mr Mugabe exited has just died down and petered out because what we are seeing is a worse off situation.”
He also criticised Mr Mnangagwa’s handling of the economy.
“The economy is totally going southwards. It is in bad shape, the economic meltdown is a manifestation of the absence of confidence in the market but absence of confidence is necessitated by the political crisis and the political stalemate in the country, occasioned by disputed elections, occasioned by a deficit of good governance, a deficit of democracy.
“So that political instability is obviously affecting economic viability. You can’t have economic viability where there’s no political stability, where there’s no comprehensive economic reforms. Corruption is rampant and Mr Mnangagwa is responsible for the corruption because he has been part of the system together under Mr Mugabe’s regime.”
Zimbabwe’s government has defended the response by security forces, and police spokeswoman Charity Charamba on Saturday expressed “grave concern” that people were committing crimes while wearing police or military uniforms.
The reports of abuses came as Mnangagwa prepared to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to appeal for foreign investment in a country he repeatedly says is “open for business.”
However Mnangagwa on Sunday scrapped plans to attend Davos and said he would instead return home to try to restore order after a “successful” trade mission to Russia.