Groups strike, protest, amid deteriorating economic conditions

On 16th August 2019, Zimbabwe’s opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) cancelled protests which they had organised in Harare to demonstrate against the country’s failing economy and the government’s handling of it. The cancellation followed an order by the High Court that morning which upheld a protest ban issued by the police the previous day. However, protesters who had already gathered in the city by the time the cancellation was announced were violently dispersed by police using teargas and batons, leaving some protesters injured. It was also reported that police and armed soldiers barred access to the MDC’s offices in Harare and set up roadblocks and checkpoints where they randomly searched buses, taxis and private vehicles, asking for identity documents.

One protestor said:

"We aren't armed but the police just beat us while we were sitting on the street."

These would have been the first protests since the January 2019 protests which turned violent, leading to mass arrests, injuries and deaths as previously documented.

Speaking to the BBC on the grievances behind the planned protest, MDC politician Fadzayi Mahere decried the country’s hyperinflation and the hardship that Zimbabweans were facing because of the difficult economic situation, saying it had worsened under president Mnangagwa’s regime. She also decried the deteriorating situation of democratic freedoms. Earlier that week, it was alleged that at least six civil society and opposition members were abducted and tortured for mobilising people to demonstrate.

In early September 2019, doctors working in the country’s two leading hospitals went on strike to demand higher salaries. The strike was called by the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors' Association (ZHDA), a union representing doctors, after they failed to reach an agreement with the government on salary increments. The doctors had already rejected an offer to increase their salaries by 60%. In November 2019, it was reported that 286 doctors were fired for participating in the strike.

On 6th November 2019, civil servants took to the streets to demand pay increments amid deteriorating economic conditions in the country. The protest was allowed by the authorities under heavy police presence in the streets. The protestors described the economic conditions as “a real crisis of existence” saying they could no longer afford basic commodities as inflation had reached an all-time high of 175%. The protesters were aggrieved at the failure of the government to respond to their demands to implement US dollar-indexed salaries to cushion public sector workers against inflation. Unions demanded that the lowest paid government employees receive the equivalent of 475 USD a month compared to the 1,023 Zimbabwe dollars (2.7 USD) they earn now. Although they intended to march to the office of the Ministry of Finance to hand over their petition, armed police officers prevented them from marching to the offices.

Association

On 14th September 2019, Dr Peter Magombeyi, the acting president of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA), and who was one of the organisers of the doctors’ strike, was abducted at around 22:00 hours. He sent a distress message to his colleagues saying he believed he was being kidnapped before his communication ended. Prior to his abduction, Dr Magombeyi had reported receiving threats for his mobilisation efforts, which he believed were from security agents. Four days later he was found 30 kilometres from Harare with no physical injuries but sounding confused according to reports. The circumstances behind his release were unclear, but he said that all he could remember was “being in a basement of some sort, being electrocuted at some point”. It is reported that many others, including democracy proponents, opposition officials and trade unionists have been kidnapped by suspected security officials since the new regime came into effect in 2018, with most being released hours later after being beaten, intimidated or otherwise mistreated.