Zimbabwe’s annual inflation rate soared to almost 840 percent in July, the statistics agency said Saturday, adding to the country’s desperate economic woes even as the government refused to acknowledge a growing sense of crisis.
The southern African nation has been grappling with more than a decade of hyperinflation triggered by economic mismanagement under former president Robert Mugabe, who was ousted by a military coup in 2017.
Many Zimbabweans have seen their savings evaporate and still struggle to afford basic commodities such as sugar and the staple cornmeal, with corruption and poverty rife.
The figures were published shortly after a government statement was issued saying that President Emmerson Mnangagwa had implemented policies “that result in a robust economy” and had kept the country “commendably stable”, denying any crisis.
The July inflation rate of 837.53 percent, which was announced by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency on Twitter, compares with 737.3 percent in June.
Month-on-month, inflation stood at 35.53 percent in July, up from 31.66 percent in June.
The government statement — published by the state-owned Herald newspaper — was a response to a letter by Zimbabwe’s Catholic Bishops on Friday that deplored a recent crackdown on dissent by Mnangagwa’s administration and a deepening crisis in the country.
Last month, the authorities banned protests planned by an opposition politician and deployed the army and riot police in huge numbers to quell them.
Opposition figure Jacob Ngarivhume, who had called for the July 31 protests against alleged state corruption and worsening economic troubles, was arrested 12 days ahead of the strike.
Journalist and documentary filmmaker Hopewell Chin’ono was also detained. They both remain in custody after being denied bail.
More than a dozen protesters, including award-winning author Tsitsi Dangarembga, were arrested on July 31 and later freed on bail. All have been charged with inciting public violence.
– ‘Multi-layered crisis’ – The bishops described the clampdown as “unprecedented” and weighed in on the ongoing crisis, which the government has repeatedly denied.
They said the “struggle in Zimbabwe” resulted “in a multi-layered crisis of the convergence of economic collapse, deepening poverty, food insecurity, corruption and human rights abuses”.
Government spokesman Nick Mangwana accused the bishops of joining the “bandwagon of individuals and entities” seeking to invent crises for political gains.
“Government reiterates that Zimbabwe, like most countries in the world is currently grappling with challenges attendant to illegal sanctions, drought and the coronavirus pandemic,” Mangwana said, quoted by The Herald. “There is no ‘crisis’, political or otherwise.”
The United States slapped sanctions on Zimbabwean businessman and political operator Kudakwashe Tagwirei days after the July 31 crackdown, calling him “notoriously corrupt”.
The sanctions were issued to commemorate the two-year anniversary of a violent army-led suppression of protests over alleged election fraud, in which at least six people were killed.
South African police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse dozens of protesters outside the Zimbabwean embassy in Pretoria on Friday, an AFP photographer said.
Close to 100 mainly Zimbabwean migrants in South Africa gathered to protest economic hardship and a recent crackdown on dissent and political opposition back home.
Earlier this week Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa vowed to “flush out” critics who he described as “dark forces” and “terrorists” after the authorities thwarted anti-government protests.
On Friday police were seen pushing and shoving the protesters from the front of the Zimbabwean embassy building, situated in a leafy Pretoria suburb not far from the Union Buildings, the seat of South Africa’s government.
Drapped in their county’s national flag, protesters waved placards, some reading “Mnangagwa: You are going to The Hague! Murderer! Thief!”
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday said he had appointed two special envoys to go to Harare “following recent reports of difficulties that the Republic of Zimbabwe is experiencing”.
Mnangagwa took over from longtime ruler Robert Mugabe after a coup in November 2017 and many Zimbabweans complain that the country’s situation has only gotten worse since.
The Zimbabwean government has dismissed allegations of rights abuses and a crisis in the country as “false”.
“There is no crisis or implosion in Zimbabwe. Neither has there been any abductions or ‘war’ on citizens,” government spokesman Nick Mangwana said in a statement.
Police in Zimbabwe on Friday arrested internationally-acclaimed novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga as they enforced a ban on protests coinciding with the anniversary of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s election.
Dangarembga, 61, was taken away in a police truck as she demonstrated in the upmarket Harare suburb of Borrowdale alongside another protester, an AFP photographer saw.
Streets in the centre of the city were largely deserted as police and soldiers set up checkpoints to prevent entry.
Opposition politician Jacob Ngarivhume, head of a small party called Transform Zimbabwe, had called for demonstrations against alleged state corruption and the country’s slumping economy
The protests were timed to coincide with the second anniversary of Mnangagwa’s election, which the opposition says was a fraud.
But most people stayed at home after police on Thursday issued a ban and warned of a tough response.
“All security arms of government are on full alert and will deal decisively with any individuals or groups fomenting violence,” it warned.
There were more checkpoints and roadblocks than usual on roads leading to the centre of the capital, manned by police and soldiers.
In the central business district, police carrying batons or riot shields were heavily deployed, an AFP journalist saw.
In the suburbs, only a handful of people appeared to brave the ban.
An AFP photographer saw Dangarembga and a fellow protester, Julie Barnes, hauled into a truck full of police armed with AK-47 rifles and riot gear.
Shortly afterwards, she tweeted: “Arrested! At Borrowdale. Ope it will be OK”. She also tweeted a photo of herself and Barnes, sitting on the floor at a police station.
She had been carrying placards calling for reforms and the release of Hopewell Chin’ono, a prominent journalist arrested last week under a government crackdown.
Minutes before her arrest, she told AFP: “It seems that there has been a big reaction by the authorities to this protest.
“They declared it illegal — I’m not quite sure (why), apart from the fact that they don’t want it…Our constitution gives Zimbabweans the right to demonstrate peacefully and that’s what we are doing.”
The Cambridge-educated author is the only Zimbabwean woman writer to win the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and has often been praised for speaking out on women’s issues.
She leapt to prominence in 1988 with “Nervous Conditions”, a coming-of-age story about a girl’s battle to escape poverty and gain an education. The book became an instant classic.
Her arrest came days after her latest novel, “This Mournable Body,” entered the long list for the Booker Prize.
In a statement, police confirmed she had been arrested “for trying to incite the public to engage in illegal demonstrations while carrying placards written various political messages meant to cause public disorder.”
Among several others arrested Friday was Fadzayi Mahere, a lawyer and spokeswoman for the main opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change-Alliance.
Mahere live-streamed via Facebook images of riot police scaling metal barriers into a suburban eatery where she had retreated after her protest, and arrested her.
The British ambassador in Harare, Melanie Robinson tweeted: “Very concerned about reports of abductions, arrests and threats targeting those exercising constitutional rights. Freedom of expression is vital even in times of COVID19, with social distancing observed”.
Poverty and hunger
The government had denounced the protests, calling them an “insurrection”.
Ruling ZANU-PF spokesman Patrick Chinamasa earlier this week claimed that US ambassador Brian Nicholls was sponsoring the protests and called him “a thug”.
Mnangagwa took over from longtime ruler Robert Mugabe after a coup in November 2017.
But hopes among many that he would end Mugabe’s disastrous economic slump have been dashed, and many Zimbabweans say they are worse off than before.
The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) says some 8.6 million Zimbabweans, or 60 percent of the population, will require food aid as a result of a drought, economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The country has recorded 3,092 virus cases including 53 deaths.
Zimbabwe’s agriculture minister, Perrance Shiri, an ex-airforce commander who headed an army unit accused of a notorious massacre in early 1980s, died on Wednesday aged 65, the government said.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who made the announcement, paid tribute to Shiri as a “true patriot” but gave no details about the cause of the death.
Shiri was commander of an elite North-Korean trained unit, the Fifth Brigade, that cracked down on a revolt in the western province of Matabeleland province in the newly-independent Zimbabwe.
Known as the Gukurahundi Massacre, the bloodbath claimed some 20,000 lives, according to the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe, a figure suported by Amnesty International.
Mnangagwa was state security minister at the time.
Shiri served for years as commander of the airforce before taking up a post as land and agriculture minister under Mnangagwa after a coup that ousted longtime ruler Robert Mugabe in November 2017.
Mnangagwa described Shiri as “a long time friend and colleague… a true patriot, who devoted his life to the liberation, independence and service of his country.”
According to an independent daily, NewsDay, Shiri had been quarantined at a private hospital after he was said to have been exposed to coronavirus virus by his driver, who died at the weekend.
Critics took to social media to vent their emotions.
“It’s tragic that Shiri has departed without facing justice over the Gukurahundi atrocities he committed in Matabeleland and Midlands Provinces in the 1980s nor telling the truth about those atrocities to help heal the nation. May God rest Shiri’s victims in eternal peace,” tweeted exiled former minister Jonathan Moyo, who served under Mugabe.
Zimbabwe’s High Court on Wednesday ruled in favour of the country’s top telecoms operator Econet Wireless and revoked a search warrant issued by the police over allegations of money laundering, the company spokesperson said.
Police issued the warrant last week as part of an investigation into suspected money laundering by the operator.
Investigators wanted Econet to disclose the details of its more than 10 million subscribers and records of all transactions conducted within the first half of 2020.
Company spokesman Fungai Mandiveyi confirmed local media reports that the warrant had been suspended by High Court Judge Justice Edith Mushore.
“I can confirm the development but will be able to comment on it after receiving full judgement,” Mandiveyi told AFP.
Econet filed papers to the High Court on Monday in which it called the warrant “unlawful” and a “violation of… privacy”.
It has denied all accusations of money laundering.
Zimbabwean state officials have blamed mobile money transfer platforms for galloping inflation that has wiped out savings and rendered basic goods unaffordable to most.
Last month, the government abruptly suspended mobile money transactions provided by telephone operators — the most widely used platform to make and receive payments in the crisis-ridden southern African country.
The services continued for daily individual transactions but were capped for commercial transactions.
The government also suspended trade on the country’s stock exchange, which it accused of being complicit in illicit financial activities.
Mobile money payments account for most electronic payment transactions in Zimbabwe, which is critically short of bank notes.
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.
Zimbabwe on Wednesday announced a 150 per cent rise in the price of fuel following the launch of a forex auction system which eroded the value of the local currency.
The price of a litre of diesel jumped 152 per cent to ZW$62.77 ($1.12) from ZW$24.93 while petrol shot up 147 per cent to ZW$71.62, the country’s Energy Regulatory Authority said in a notice.
The central bank re-introduced forex auctioning on Tuesday, the first in 16 years after a long battle to stabilise its currency and fight hyperinflation.
The auction saw the local currency losing more than half of its value from 1:25 to 1:57 to the greenback by the end of trading.
Zimbabwe has been facing fuel shortages since October 2018.
The scarcity prompted President Emmerson Mnangagwa to increase the price of fuel by 150 per cent in January 2019, sparking countrywide demonstrations.
At least 17 people were killed and scores injured after soldiers deployed to quell the strike opened fire on protesters.
The government said at the time the prices were lower than in other countries in the region, and that some foreigners were buying fuel in bulk in Zimbabwe for resale in neighbouring countries.
Despite the price increase which was aimed at ending shortages, the scarcity persisted with motorists sometimes spending nights in queues for fuel pumps, stretching for kilometres.
After years in international isolation, Zimbabwe’s economy has been on a downturn for more than a decade.
Mnangagwa, who took over from long-time leader Robert Mugabe at the back of a military coup in 2017, pledged to mend the economy but things have only got worse with shops running short of basic commodities like bank notes, sugar and the staple cornmeal.
Zimbabwe’s health minister Obadiah Moyo was arrested Friday for alleged corruption related to the supply of medical materials to combat the coronavirus pandemic, the anti-graft agency said.
He was being held at a Harare police station and is likely to appear in court on Saturday.
“I can confirm that the minister of health and child welfare has been arrested and is being detained at Rhodesville police station,” John Makamure, spokesman for the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, told AFP.
“It’s to do with the procurement of COVID-19 materials,” he added.
The government did not immediately comment on the arrest, which came a day after the country’s main opposition condemned alleged state corruption following suspicions over a $2-million-dollar payment to a medical company contracted to provide anti-coronavirus equipment.
Harare has come under fire for granting two-month-old company Drax Consult SAGL a contract to supply $20 million worth of drugs, personal protective equipment and COVID-19 test kits.
The deal was allegedly signed without the legal consent of Zimbabwe’s procurement registration authority.
In March, authorities in Hungary — where Drax Consult SAGL is registered — flagged a suspicious $2 million deposit into the company’s accounts, drawing anger from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
Local media reported last week the arrest of businessman Delish Nguwaya, believed to be Drax’s local representative, in connection with the same case.
The government last week ordered the cancellation of all contracts for the supply of medicines and sundries by Drax, according to the state-run Herald newspaper.
The country has detected 479 virus cases, including four deaths, although that figure is believed to be underestimated due to a lack of testing.
United Nations experts on Wednesday called on Zimbabwe to stop “abductions and torture” that they said seemed aimed at stifling dissent.
Three members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change say they were abducted by police at an MDC protest in the capital Harare on May 13.
Joanna Mamombe, Netsai Marova and Cecilia Chimbiri — prominent members of the MDC’s youth wing — were found dumped on the side of a road two days later and taken to hospital with multiple injuries.
MDC leader Nelson Chamisa said they had been severely beaten and sexually assaulted.
In a statement, nine UN special rapporteurs — who do not speak for the UN but report their findings to it — said the three had been charged with violating COVID-19 regulations on public gatherings and with intending to promote public violence.
The UN experts called on Zimbabwe to immediately end the reported pattern of disappearances and torture.
“The charges against the three women should be dropped,” the experts said.
“Targeting peaceful dissidents, including youth leaders, in direct retaliation for the exercise of their freedom of association, peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, is a serious violation of human rights law.”
They urged the Zimbabwean authorities to “urgently prosecute and punish the perpetrators of this outrageous crime, and to immediately enforce a policy of ‘zero tolerance’ for abductions and torture”.
They also said that in 2019, 49 cases of abductions and torture were reported in Zimbabwe, without investigations leading to those responsible being held accountable.
“Zimbabwe must take all measures in its power to prevent such abuse, to investigate suspected violations, and to bring any perpetrators to justice,” the experts said.
The rapporteurs also urged Zimbabwe to admit UN rights experts so that they could assess the situation.