National security commanders were yesterday said to be on high alert, keeping a close eye on developments following the riots that broke out in Beitbridge on Friday, fearing that if not contained, the unrest would lead to national instability and pose a threat to national security.
By XOLISANI NCUBE
“The security ministers and top military commanders are really worried that the manner in which Beitbridge residents executed their protest could inspire others to do the same given the economic situation in the country,” a highly-placed source in government said yesterday.
“Also, the fear is that Friday’s protests came just a week after similar revolts were witnessed in the same town. So, really, it is something commanders are worried about.”
Home Affairs deputy minister Obedingwa Mguni said the protests in Beitbridge were politically-motivated given the fact that they were taking place when the country was witnessing the mushrooming of demonstrations for various reasons. He warned that police would deal ruthlessly with those sponsoring the riots.
“If you look at these protests, they are being sponsored by other malcontents who have different agendas. They are running concurrently with other demonstrations and it’s clear that these are sponsored demonstrations,” Mguni said.
“Secondly, people are being misled by these malcontents who want to benefit from the riots for political capital by telling them that government has banned the importation of these goods. It’s a lie. Government is only putting restrictive measures and those who want to import should just apply to the authorities and they can import after satisfying the authorities.”
The minister also accused businesspeople in South Africa of sponsoring the riots, saying they were benefitting from the importation of the goods into Zimbabwe.
“It’s unfortunate that those who have been benefitting from the purchase of these goods are also sponsoring the demonstrations. My question to Zimbabweans is, should we burn our property while we enrich other people? Is it fair to our economy? Surely the police will not watch that happening and we will not allow people to take the law into their own hands. We will decisively deal with those who are sponsoring this lawlessness,” Mguni said.
Industry minister Mike Bimha said he was worried about the protests and the vandalism of public property, but said government was not going to reverse the statutory instrument which caused the protest as it was in the best interest of the economy. He said ordinary people were allowed to go and buy those goods banned for domestic use and not commercialisation.
“It’s really worrying that people resort to violence and property destruction for issues we should sit down and talk about. This is destroying the same economy we want to build. People should appreciate that we have not banned the importation of those goods but we are only limiting through issuance of permits. You and I can still go and buy for home consumption because the instrument only applies to industry. Those who are importing in large quantities are the ones affected.”
Meanwhile, Beitbridge residents yesterday woke up to the sight of increased military and regular police presence following the massive riotous scenes on Friday.
All roads that had been blocked all day Friday by angry rioters were cleared and a tense but relatively calm atmosphere prevailed.
“People are afraid; people have stayed at home after noticing the presence of more policemen and soldiers,” said Albert Ndou of Dulibadzimu.
Police arrested several suspects accused of masterminding the protests and they face allegations of destroying property during the riots.
These were the first riots to cause the closure of the border post since its establishment in 1929 when the Alfred Beitbridge linking South Africa and Zimbabwe was opened.
A State warehouse with thousands of dollars’ worth of imported goods held in lieu of duty payment was razed in a raging fire. Cars held by Zimra were destroyed in the fire started by groups of protesters who fought running battles with police as they were driven from the border post.
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) says it will go ahead and implement Statutory Instrument 64/2016 despite violent protests that have rocked Beitbridge town. Zimra issued a statement late on Friday stating that the ban on specified goods was there to stay.
“The authority is implementing SI 64 of 2016 as gazetted. Members of the public are encouraged to comply,” read part of the statement.