Zimbabwe on Friday abruptly suspended all mobile money transactions, the most widely used platform to make and receive payments in the crisis-ridden country, claiming the move would tackle crime and economic sabotage.
The government also suspended all trade on the country's stock exchange, which it accused of being complicit in illicit financial activities.
An information ministry statement said government was suspending with immediate effect "all monetary transactions on phone-based mobile money platforms in order to facilitate intrusive investigations".
"Government is in possession of impeccable intelligence ... whereby mobile-based phone systems ...are conspiring with the help of the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange - either deliberately or inadvertently - in illicit activities that are sabotaging the economy," it said.
In 2016, mobile money payments reportedly accounted for more than 80 percent of all electronic payment transactions.
The shock announcement coincided with month-end when people receive and withdraw their salaries via mobile phone banking.
In a country critically short of bank notes, the move will likely shut most general transactions from payment for groceries and services such as electricity.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took power in 2017 following a military coup pledging to revive the moribund economy, now blames the economic malaise on unnamed "political detractors".
"We are fully cognisant that this battle is being fuelled by our political detractors, elite opportunists and malcontents who are bent on pushing a nefarious agenda," he said this week.
Zimbabwe is in the throes of its worst economic crisis in more than a decade.
The country is short of cash and basics including fuel and the staple cornmeal.
According to new data annual inflation was inching closer to 800 percent in April.
Crackdown on dissent is on the rise in Zimbabwe even as the country is under COVID-19 lockdown. The nation is recording a spate of abductions and torture common under late former leader, Robert Mugabe.
Three opposition activists from the Movement for Democratic Change-Alliance (MDC-Alliance) disappeared in May after being detained by police while on their way to an anti-government protest.
The women were found badly injured outside the capital Harare nearly 48 hours later and immediately hospitalized. They say they were abducted, sexually abused and forced to drink their urine.
Their abusers remain unidentified but as the women were abducted from police custody, it is assumed they were some kind of state agent.
The three women, member of parliament Joanna Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova, have since been arrested on charges of lying about their abduction and torture.
'Pattern of disappearances and torture'
Their rearrest came as the United Nations expressed its concerns over what it calls a "reported pattern of disappearances and torture that appear aimed at suppressing protests and dissent" in Zimbabwe.
According to the UN, 49 cases of abductions and torture were reported in the country in 2019 alone.
Thirty-eight-year old rights activist Tatenda Mombeyarara, who was taken from his home by heavily armed men in August 2019, is one of these.
After being severely beaten with metal rods, Mombeyarara was dumped in a quarry. At hospital, it was found he had a broken leg and bruised ribs.
During the beatings, Mombeyarara's attackers accused him of being involved in organizing protests.
Mombeyarara also faces charges of subversion from a previous arrest dating back to May 2019.
'Petrified and terrified'
The May abduction and torture of the three opposition activists has made him even more fearful.
"I am petrified and terrified. It is a difficult situation to become a villain when you are the victim," Mombeyarara told DW. "You are forced to decide to keep to yourself to prevent further victimization. You have to remain gagged to heal. The nature of harm caused on you goes beyond physical."
Zimbabwe under President Emmerson Mnangagwa (center) is still intolerant of basic rights, peaceful dissent and free expression, says Human Rights Watch
The identity of Mombeyarara's attackers is also unknown. But human rights organizations say in most incidences, the pattern of the violations points towards the state being the primary perpetrator of the abuses.
Zimbabwe's government, however, has denied any responsibility.
"Government does not engage or permit any of its agencies and institutions to use any methods such as torture, forced disappearances or abductions," Zimbabwe's home affairs minister Kazembe Kazembe said at a press conference last week.
He accused the opposition of working with foreign organizations to destabilize the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
"Torture and forced disappearances are alien to us," Kazembe said. "We believe they have been brought from foreign environments to generate negative sentiments against our government."
There is increasing tension between Mnangagwa's government and citizens as a result of the poor state of the economy.
The cost of living has gone up dramatically from the beginning of the year especially under the COVID-19 lockdown. Inflation is now pegged at over 700% and long winding fuel queues are an almost permanent feature in the country's towns and cities.
Zimbabweans have been calling on the government to address the situation, but it appears as if the state is instead responding by silencing critical voices.
Failure to follow up
Zimbabwe has also been accused of failing to investigate and persecute the disappearances.
"Zimbabwe's failure to decisively deal with cases of abductions disappearances and torture severely undermines the standing of the country within the international community," said Human Rights Watch Southern Africa Director Dewa Mavhinga.
In early 2000, rights violations resulted in the sanctioning of political leaders in Zimbabwe, then ruled by Robert Mugabe.
The atrocities also led to the isolation of the southern African country from the international community.
Analysts say promises that were made in 2017 when Mugabe was removed from power have become empty. Hope was raised but it was naive because the systems used by Mugabe remained intact.
"The country need to end impunity if Zimbabwe is to be respected. Failure to do so undermines the country's reengagement efforts with the international community," Dewa Mavhinga told DW.
Credit: Deutsche Welle
The Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) has described as unfair the steep prices that some private health facilities are charging individuals for COVID-19 tests.
Investigations by NewZimbabwe.com showed that some private medical health centres were demanding up to US$25 per person for a COVID-19 test.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa last week extended the lockdown by a further 14-days but allowed industry and commerce to resume operations while complying with set health guidelines to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Some of the guidelines include tests for the coronavirus for all employees returning to work, wearing of face masks by all people in public spaces, and maintenance of social distancing.
However, taking advantage of the new government guidelines, some health facilities with testing machines have steeply hiked their prices, a move which has been strongly condemned by CWGH director, Itai Rusike as most of the test kits were donated equipment.
"Zimbabwe's poorly resourced COVID-19 response is inevitably shifting the burden to the most vulnerable and precarious people, households and businesses," he said.
Rusike also described as draconian, the rule to force people to wear face masks when they leave their homes. The government has announced a 12-month prison sentence for anyone caught in public without a face mask.
The CWGH director said the public and other stakeholders should not be mere bystanders when the government was announcing COVID-19 decisions.
"They need to be informed about the decisions and make sense of how to implement them, to plan for the pandemic and its impact on their own lives and work.
"So for the general public in Zimbabwe to have trust and support for any strategy for the next phases of the COVID-19 response, calls for a multi-sector taskforce to engage stakeholder and community representatives through genuinely open deliberative processes," he said.
Rusike said the government's decision on measures taken on the lockdown should have explicitly addressed how different interests and risks were being balanced.
Contacted for a comment, Health Ministry secretary, Agnes Mahomva said she could not make a comment as she was in a meeting.
Credit: New Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Sunday extended a lockdown to contain the spread of the new coronavirus by two weeks, but will allow mining companies to get back to work.
Mnangagwa said the lockdown would continue because the country had not yet met conditions set down by the World Health Organization to lift the measures.
Three people have died from the virus out of the 25 confirmed infected in the southern African country, but health experts expect the figures to rise once authorities ramp up testing.
“It has been a very hard decision that my government has had to take reluctantly,” Mnangagwa said in a live television broadcast.
Mnangagwa said the government would allow mining companies, which generate the most foreign currency, to resume full operations while manufacturers would work at limited capacity. Mining companies operating in Zimbabwe include local operations of Impala Platinum Holdings and Anglo American Platinum.
Zimbabwe began a 21-day lockdown on March 30, which has confined most people to their homes. But in poor townships, people are venturing out in search of staples like maize meal, leading to long queues at the shops.
The lockdown has left many citizens without an income and food at a time the country is grappling with the worst economic crisis in a decade, marked by shortages of foreign exchange, food and medicines.
In the capital Harare, city council officials, with the help of police and soldiers, were on Sunday tearing down illegal market stalls used by informal traders in townships.
The move was strongly criticised by citizens in the country where more than 80% of the working population have no formal jobs and eke a living from informal markets.
City authorities defended the move saying it was necessary to restore order in the city and that informal traders would be relocated to new and better facilities.
Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government will scrap its plan to remove grain subsidies next year, a move it says will protect impoverished citizens from rising food prices, state media reported on Thursday.
The country is experiencing its worst economic crisis in a decade, marked by soaring inflation and shortages of food, fuel, medicines and electricity.
Half of Zimbabwe’s population needs food aid after a devastating drought across the southern Africa region, worsened by an economy expected to shrink by 6.5% this year and month-on-month inflation at a four-month high of 38.75%.
Zimbabwe’s grain agency buys grain from farmers and releases it onto the market at subsidised prices, costing the treasury tens of millions of U.S. dollars. The government had planned to remove the subsidy in its 2020 budget.
Mnangagwa was quoted in the state-owned Herald newspaper as saying that would no longer happen.
“We cannot remove the subsidy,” he was quoted as saying. “So I am restoring it so that the price of mealie-meal is also reduced (next year).”
The removal of the government’s grain subsidy would have seen a 10 kg bag of maize meal, the country’s staple, costing 102 Zimbabwean dollars (about US$6.30), against 60 Zimbabwe dollars now, in a country with 90% unemployment.
Last week, the government removed import controls on maize and wheat flour to try to prevent food shortages.
Zimbabwe’s reintroduction of a local currency after 10 years of dollarisation, coupled with the removal of subsidies on fuel and electricity, unleashed inflation, triggering frequent and sometimes deadly protests against Mnangagwa’s government.
Rights groups say at least 17 people were killed and hundreds were arrested in January, after security forces cracked down on protests against fuel price increases. Police have banned further protests.
Early hopes that Mnangagwa, who took over from the long-ruling former president Robert Mugabe after a November 2017 coup, would revive the economy are fast fading amid a worsening economic crisis and slow-paced political reforms.
Zimbabwe’s central bank chief, John Mangudya, said he would introduce a new currency in the next two weeks to address biting liquidity shortages in the economy and regain monetary policy control after years of dollarisation.
Mangudya told journalists in the capital on Tuesday that the as-of-yet-unnamed currency will have denominations of coins and notes with a maximum value of five Zimbabwe dollars (US$0.25).
“We are going to be releasing money into circulation. To be precise, within the next two weeks, we will have the new currency,” Mangudya said.
He said the new currency would trade along with the bond notes and the coins and would have the same value as these surrogate currencies.
Mangudya defended the bank’s decision to have a note worth only five Zimbabwe dollars as the highest denomination in a hyperinflationary environment, saying he wanted uniformity with the denominations that were already in the market.
Mangudya said that in line with the law, Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa must agree to the creation of a new monetary unit. After he assents, the minister of finance will then issue a decree, paving the way for the printing of the currency.
Zimbabwe ‘s inflation was last measured at 350% after Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube ordered the country’s statistical department to stop publishing annual inflation numbers until February of next year.
Back in 2009, soaring inflation prompted Zimbabwe to ditch its failing sovereign currency in favour of a basket of foreign currencies led by the United States dollar. But “dollarising” the economy hit a major bump in 2015 when greenbacks started vanishing from the formal banking system.
In a bid to end the US dollar shortage, Zimbabwe’s central bank introduced bond notes – a form of surrogate currency – that was backed by a US$200 million bond facility from the Africa Export-Import Bank. But black market speculation quickly eroded the bond note value, triggering a shortage that the central bank tried to offset by creating electronic notes.
Then this past February, bond notes – both physical and electronic – were merged into the Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) dollar.
In June, the government moved to defend the Zimdollar against speculators by banning all foreign currencies in local transactions. But the effort has largely failed after the Zimdollar quickly fell prey to black market speculation that sent its value plummeting.
“There is a misconception that once you introduce a currency, then inflation is going to increase. We are simply giving people a chance to choose between electronic balances and cash,” said central bank chief Mangudya.
Economists are not holding out hope for the new currency.
“The only worry about a local currency is excessive money printing by the central bank, which makes multiple currencies dearer options when forced to choose,” Victor Bhoroma, a Harare-based independent economist, told Al Jazeera.
“The solution for Zimbabwe does not lie in any new currencies [whether Zimbabwean dollars or foreign currencies].”
The solution, according to Bhoroma, is instituting key reforms in governance, reining in expenditures in government, creating supply-side interventions to boost production, engaging in confidence-building, and strengthening institutions – such as the rule of law, property rights, and policy consistency.
Gift Mugano, an economics professor at Zimbabwe Ezekiel Guti University, told Al Jazeera that the introduction of the currency will accelerate its own value decline.
The new currency will have the same value as the bond note and RTGS dollars circulating in the economy.
“This is a continuation of a process that started on 24 June when the central bank outlawed the use of the US dollar and introduced a new currency,” Mugano said.
“What is important to note is that they did this when economic fundamentals were very weak. The fundamentals have not improved as we speak.
“The central bank doesn’t have the reserves to back the value of the currency and has only a month’s import cover at best. It’s going to be difficult to maintain the value of the currency.”
Mugano said the bond note and the RTGS dollar, the Zimbabwe dollar’s predecessor, had failed to act as a store of value, forcing ordinary Zimbabweans and companies to buy US dollars to preserve value.
He sees companies using the new currency to acquire US dollars.
“What will happen is very simple: companies will get cash to buy US dollars and then the rate will go higher as more cash chases the few US dollars in the market,” Mugano said. “The pressure on the exchange rate will be higher.”
The RTGS dollar and Zimbabwe’s surrogate currency, the bond note, have both struggled to hold value against the US dollar as demand outstrips supply.
Once valued at 1:1 with the greenback, the currency is now trading at 1:20 against the US dollar on the black market.
“It is obvious the Zimbabwean dollar will not hold any value because of negative fundamentals in the economy which include key among them confidence deficit and high demand for foreign currency to import commodities [current account deficit],” Bhoroma said.
“It is also inevitable that the central bank will continue to grow money supply in the economy to fund runaway government expenditure. This will further weaken the local currency.”
This year alone, the economy in Zimbabwe is contracting by more than 6.5%.
Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Friday described Western sanctions as a “cancer” sapping the economy, and his supporters denounced the measures during marches held around the southern African country.
Mnangagwa’s opponents stayed away from the demonstrations, saying they were a distraction from the president’s mishandling of the economy, which is grappling with 18-hour daily power cuts and shortages of foreign exchange, fuel and medicines.
Mnangagwa has so far failed to unify the country since taking over from the late Robert Mugabe, who was ousted in a coup in 2017. Hopes of a swift recovery have faded as the economy struggles to exit its deepest crisis in a decade.
Mnangagwa, like Mugabe, blames the sanctions imposed by the United States and European Union since 2001 for the economic ills and sees them as a tool to remove the ruling ZANU-PF party from power.
“Every part and sector of our economy has been affected by these sanctions like a cancer,” Mnangagwa told a few thousand supporters inside a 60,000-seater national stadium. “Enough is enough, remove them. Remove these sanctions now!”
Earlier, 7,000 government supporters led by Mnangagwa’s wife Auxillia and bussed from across Zimbabwe marched for 5 km to the national stadium in the capital Harare.
Singing and dancing, they waved placards inscribed “No sanctions, no discrimination, sanctions new version of slavery,” and “Enough is enough, remove sanctions now.”
“We have no jobs because of the sanctions. America wants to remove ZANU-PF from power through sanctions but we will defend the party and our president,” said 32-year-old Martin Mafusire.
Similar marches were held throughout Zimbabwe after Mnangagwa declared Friday a public holiday.
The EU and United States imposed financial and travel bans on ZANU-PF and top military figures for alleged human rights abuses and electoral fraud. The government says the measures are punishment for its seizures of white-owned farms.
ZANU-PF supporters condemn the sanctions while the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change says they are not the cause of the country’s economic crisis.
The regional Southern African Development Community has rallied behind Zimbabwe’s call for an end to sanctions.
While the government ran documentaries and articles in the official press criticising sanctions, the U.S. and EU embassies took to social media to rebut the official narrative.
U.S. Ambassador Brian Nichols wrote an article in a private newspaper on Thursday saying “the greatest sanctions on Zimbabwe are the limitations that the country places on itself”.
He said the United States remained the biggest donor to Zimbabwe but corruption and lack of reform had dragged down the economy.
Harare says the U.S. sanctions have been the most devastating. These bar U.S. officials at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank from voting for debt relief or fresh lending for Zimbabwe.
In March, President Donald Trump extended by one year sanctions against 141 entities and individuals in Zimbabwe, including Mnangagwa.
Zimbabwe's militant teachers' group, Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) says its members will from today start reporting for duty only twice a week as they could no longer afford transport fares to and from work.
This, they announced through a Friday letter they addressed to Public Service Commission chairperson, Vincent Hungwe.
PTUZ secretary general Raymond Majongwe said teachers under his 15 000-member union will also be abandoning formal dressing during their course of duty as they can no longer afford the clothing.
He said teachers' earnings have been eroded by continued price increases that have propelled the country's inflation to an alarming 591 percent, according to top world economist Steve Hanke.
"We hereby give our notice of incapacitation and with effect from Monday the 21st of October 2019 our members will be reporting for duty twice a week at most," Majongwe said.
"Mr Chairman, teachers would also like to advise and notify you that because of their plight, they will no longer be able to abide by the Strict Dress Code Rules as the little pittance they are getting is not adequate to feed them and their families, let alone buy formal clothing."
Majongwe said teachers under his organisation will only resume full time duty when government starts paying their wages based on the US dollar interbank rates, which on Friday stood at $15.8 against USD$1.
"Our humble and honest request to government is simply a radical adjustment of teachers' salaries to the last USD salary paid, at the current interbank rate, that is pegged at $15.8 today," he said.
The pending job action by the radical teachers group comes as junior doctors working in the country's public hospitals Friday went into Day 47 of their crippling strike demanding a review of their wages and allowances based on interbank rates.
The doctors insist they were prepared to report for work, but they were financially incapacitated to do so.
Government has offered the critical health staff a 60 percent wage hike which has been turned down by doctors who want their salaries pegged against the US dollar.
According to latest wage talks, government Friday revised the offer to 100 percent.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa Thursday accused the striking doctors of being used by the enemy to advance a regime change agenda against his under-fire administration.
Credit: New Zimbabwe
Striking Zimbabwean doctors defied a government ultimatum to return to work on Monday, after rejecting a 60% pay rise offer they say is not enough to keep up with soaring prices of basic goods.
The southern African nation’s economy is grappling with its worst crisis in a decade, with triple-digit inflation, rolling power cuts and shortages of U.S. dollars, medicines and fuel that have revived memories of the 2008 hyperinflation under late President Robert Mugabe.
The Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA), the union for junior and middle level doctors in the public sector, on Monday pulled out of the Health Apex Council that represents public health workers in negotiations with the government, saying it no longer served their interests.
The association said the government offer was “ridiculous” as it would take their monthly salaries to around 1,700 Zimbabwe dollars ($111), well below their demand of a 400% salary hike.
More than 100 of its members marched at the main Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare on Monday demanding higher pay and vowing not to return to work.
The doctors have been on strike for more than a month, which has seen some patients being turned away from public hospitals already struggling with shortages of medicines.
ZHDA said in a statement that the government was not willing to address their concerns but had instead responded with “intimidation and threats of disciplinary action or dismissals.”
“The will and desire is there but the means to execute their (the doctors’) duties does not exist,” it said.
Health Minister Obadiah Moyo, who on Saturday issued the ultimatum for doctors to return to work on Monday or face disciplinary action, said he could not immediately comment.
Tapiwa Mungofa, the ZHDA treasurer, later told reporters that the World Health Organisation and other United Nations agencies should help raise funding for Zimbabwe’s health sector and broker a solution to end the strike.
The doctors want their salaries indexed to the U.S. dollar because the Zimbabwe dollar is losing value against the greenback while earnings are being eroded by inflation, which the International Monetary Fund said stood at nearly 300% in August.
The government lifted the price of diesel and petrol by up to 27% on Saturday, which was followed by increases in the prices of goods like sugar, cooking oil and milk and transport.
Last week, President Emmerson Mnangagwa pleaded for time and patience to revive the economy.
Hopes that it would quickly rebound under Mnangagwa, who took over after Mugabe was deposed in a coup in November 2017, have faded fast, as Zimbabweans grapple with inflation that has eroded earnings and savings.
Zimbabwean public sector doctors went on strike on Tuesday for the second time in less than a year to demand a further salary increase amid soaring living costs, as President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government struggles with a deteriorating economy.
Zimbabwe is mired in its worst economic crisis in a decade, with triple-digit inflation, rolling power cuts and shortages of U.S. dollars, basic goods, medicines and fuel that have revived memories of the hyperinflation that forced it to ditch its currency in 2009.
Mnangagwa’s government has proposed big pay rises for doctors and other public sector workers in an attempt to avert crippling strikes. Police have banned a series of protests called by the opposition in major cities and have used tear gas and water cannon to disperse demonstrators.
The main unions representing doctors and teachers, who make up the bulk of public service workers, said they had rejected the government’s salary offers, which would see the lowest paid worker earning 1,023 Zimbabwe dollars ($90.45) a month.
The doctors accepted their 60% pay increase but said it was not sufficient to avert the strike action. The teachers are not currently on strike.
The doctors are looking for another 401% pay hike that they want indexed to the U.S. dollar.
“We met with the government representatives yesterday and they promised to expedite other allowances for health personnel but so far it has just been empty promises,” the head of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA), Peter Magombeyi, told Reuters.
“They have taken us for granted for too long, but we are ready to go back to work as soon as they offer us something tangible, which has not been forthcoming so far.”
“ASSESSING THE SITUATION”
At the turn of the year, junior doctors held a 40-day strike for better pay and conditions that crippled public hospitals. It ended without a deal being reached and with doctors threatening further stoppages.
Most junior doctors stayed away on Tuesday at the largest two public hospitals, Parirenyatwa and Harare Central, a Reuters witness said.
A few junior doctors turned up to work, but said they would not report for work on Wednesday. Some senior doctors also said they would join the strike.
“Today we were assessing the situation but we are not coming in tomorrow(Today). The strike will be in full swing,” a junior doctor at Harare Central Hospital told Reuters.
The Health Services Board (HSB), which represents the government, said in a statement late on Monday that it was surprised the doctors were taking strike action despite accepting the earlier pay offer.
ZHDA wants wages, which were previously pegged to the U.S. dollar, to be paid at the prevailing inter-bank market rate and says its members can no longer afford to report for duty due to surging inflation and the deterioration in the economy.
Their current salaries are worth less than 10% of what they were before the peg was scrapped due to high inflation.
Zimbabwe dollar is trading at 11.31 against the U.S. dollar in the interbank market and 13.10 in the black market. Both rates are used to buy goods.