BY BLESSED MHLANGA / OBEY MANAYITI
Harare businesses were left counting their losses on Friday after a violent crackdown by police on opposition supporters left the city centre deserted.
The majority of businesses did not open as police deployed heavily on the streets anticipating a flood of MDC supporters for the protests against President
Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government.
The MDC said it called off the demonstrations to avert “bloodshed” after police dispersed its supporters with batons and water cannons.
Police had announced a day before that the demonstration will not be allowed to go ahead and a High Court appeal by the MDC against the ban failed.
Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers president Denford Mutashu said although they had not done an assessment of the situation, losses made by businesses because of the shutdown ran into millions of dollars.
“It runs into millions as generally all business shut down. It is plus or minus $500 million because the losses generally emanate from revenue losses,
perishable goods that shops had to throw away, deliveries that did not come through,” he said.
“At the moment I still have to deal with those who lost property during the August 1 and January riots.
“Shops like Choppies lost about $15 million and have not recovered.
“The other loss comes from employees having to be paid whilst they are at home.
“The transport sector suffered major losses while the country’s image took a battering after these demonstrations, which scare away investors.”
Human rights groups said the heavyhanded response by the police was not justified.
MDC president Nelson Chamisa said it was ironic that the government, which was preaching austerity, had invested heavily in the police force.
““The police have new vehicles, new uniforms and new equipment, meaning to say they have money to buy uniforms and deploy hundreds of officers when they don’t
have money to get us out of the electricity blackout,” he said on Friday.
“People spend hours in darkness, people spend hours in queues for basic commodities like bread.
“But you would find that the police in their own actions are showing that they are not consistent with the situation that people are going through.”
Chamisa said the police had turned what was meant to be a peaceful demonstration into a “shutdown” of the capital.
“We want to thank the police for giving us a stayaway. We didn’t want a stayaway,” he said.
“They did very well and we must really thank them. They went out of their way to shut down the city. We didn’t want a shutdown,” he said.
From Thursday evening, police mounted roadblocks on major roads leading to the central business district where they demanded identity documents from people.
On Friday, police officers that were dispersing opposition supporters that had gathered at the Africa Unity Square indiscriminately beat up people that were
going about their business.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights director Roselyn Hanzi said the crackdown would come at a huge cost for the government.
“Most of the victims of torture and police brutality sue the government and from the cases we have handled in the past they win and government takes money
from the consolidated revenue fund, which is taxpayers’ money to pay the victims,” she said.”In the end, it’s our money.”
Hanzi said her organisation had recorded a number of violations where police pounced on people that had not committed any offence.