(Photo by Jekesai NJIKIZANA / AFP)

By Dumisani Sigogo

Pro-democracy activists have lambasted Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Munangagwa who has imposed military-style dawn to the dusk curfew as a severe measure to stop the overwhelming spread of the coronavirus.

In a special address to the nation, President Munangagwa, declared that the 12-hour curfew starting from July 22, will be harshly enforced by the security, military and police force.

The banning of political and religious gatherings has been viewed by most Zimbabweans as a move aimed at suppressing dissenting voices and curtailing their freedoms just as calls by civic society and the opposition are gaining support to demonstrate against corruption, deteriorating political situation and a failing economy.

Describing the renewed COVID -19 lockdown as an accelerated war against the pandemic the president said: “With effect from 22 July 2020, all business premises must operate from 0800-1500 hours, with exception of providers of Essential Services. Only Essential Services are exempt from this curfew.”

“Public gatherings for social, religious, and political purposes remain banned. Funeral gatherings remain curtailed in line with health requirements,” added President Munangagwa.

The disgruntled human rights activists have criticized the curfew as an onslaught against the planned July 31 anti-government and anti-graft demonstrations.

The pro-democracy campaigners are fuming that the authorities are using the coronavirus prevention regulations and the lockdown also as a preemptive measure to stop planned anti-government national demonstrations.

Earlier this week, the government issued a stern warning that it was going to jail and treat any protestors as terrorists. Following that announcement, award-winning journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and opposition politician Jacob Ngarivhume, leader of Transform Zimbabwe, were on Tuesday arrested on allegations of inciting Zimbabweans to revolt against the government.

As calls for mass demonstrations gather momentum on social media and pleas from the public urging soldiers, police, air force and prison officers to join the citizens by disobeying orders from their superiors to crush the protests, security sector chiefs have also threatened to the charge, insubordinate officers.

In a statement, Zimbabwe Republic Police assistant commissioner Paul Nyathi said: “The security services, especially the Zimbabwe Republic Police, the Zimbabwe National Army, Air Force of Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe Prison Correctional Services have noted with concern the recent social media posting urging members to disregard lawful orders, commands, and instructions given by their commanders while performing the duty.”

Junior ranking soldiers and police officers who spoke to the African Gazette said their morale was low and their circumstances were even more difficult if not worse because as they are also suffering like their families and friends since the officers are getting low salaries as well.

In the statement, police said its ongoing investigations have noted that some locals posting the messages were using foreign cell phone numbers to avoid detection.

The police spokesperson also described the messages as ‘propaganda’ meant to cause alarm, despondency and to divide the security services and as well as to peddle hatred and incite violence among Zimbabweans.

Social- political commentator and blogger Nomusa Garikai questioned on Zimbabwe Social Democrats blog: “How ironic that the country is ramping up its response to the soaring coronavirus cases by deploying Police, Army, and CIO to every corner of the country, armed to the teeth, to impose dusk to dawn curfew but has no health care worker or equipment to do something even as basic as check the COVID-19 patient’s temperature.”

“For Pete’s sake, what we need is nurses and medicine, not soldiers and guns. Even now, at this the 59th minute of the 11th hour, before the coronavirus storm overwhelms us all; our leaders still have the common sense to do the obvious thing, the common sense thing,” blogged Garikai.

Zimbabwe’s COVID-19 cases astronomically jumped from last week’s 985 to 1,713 as of July 20 with recoveries standing at 472. Deaths also shot up from last week’s 18 to the 26.