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Military on alert amid social unrest

ZIMBABWE’S Joint Operations Command (Joc), which brings together the army, police and intelligence chiefs, has put the military on high alert in the wake of rising tensions and protests which rocked the country from Friday last week, security sources said.

By Elias Mambo

ZIMBABWE Defence Forces (ZDF) commander General Constantine Chiwenga
ZIMBABWE Defence Forces (ZDF) commander General Constantine Chiwenga

In the meantime, the sources said, Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo has instructed the Zimbabwe Republic Police to ruthlessly crush any demonstrations.

President Robert Mugabe held a high-profile security meeting with Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, State Security minister Kembo Mohadi, Chombo, Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander Constantine Chiwenga, Central Intelligence Organisation boss Happyton Bonyongwe, Police Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri and Zimbabwe Prison Services boss Paradzai Zimondi at his Munhumutapa offices on Monday where they agreed security forces should closely monitor the situation.

Sources in the security sector said the meeting also resolved that the police should deal with any protests although CIO members have been deployed to monitor hot-spots and crush potential “troublemakers”.

“The military is also on high alert, but will not be involved unless the security situation further deteriorates,” a top security official said.

The political and security situation was also discussed in the Zanu PF politburo meeting on Wednesday where party officials instructed Chombo to order the police to crush any protests going forward.

“Chombo has since instructed the police to be very tough on protestors,” a senior politburo official said.

Security sources say Joc, which has been key to Mugabe and Zanu PF’s political survival, is worried by growing protests by ordinary Zimbabweans who are infuriated by the fast deteriorating economic situation in the country.

Service chiefs fear the tensions may explode into a full-blown uprising which may force Mugabe out of power.

“Joc is seized with the ongoing disturbances amid fears that this may explode into a full blown civil unrest,” another source said.

“Several scenarios were presented in the meeting on how to combat the protests, but the officials agreed to put the military on standby while the police maintains order.”

Last Friday, hundreds of Beitbridge residents protested against government’s decision to limit the importation of basic commodities through Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016. There were also protests on the South African side of the border, forcing the temporary closure of the Beitbridge border post.

A Zimbabwe Revenue Authority warehouse was burnt down during the protests resulting in the loss of goods worth millions of dollars.

On Monday commuter omnibus crews from Epworth rioted in protest over the high number of roadblocks on the country’s roads.

The government also suffered a huge blow when the majority of workers heeded Pastor Evan Mawarire’s call for a peaceful stay-away and national shutdown.

There were, however, clashes between the police and some youths in Harare’s Mufakose suburb and in Makokoba high-density suburb in Bulawayo.

Wednesday’s protests were co-ordinated by Mawarire’s #ThisFlag movement and supported by all political parties.
Service chiefs fear that the protests will continue and possibly increase in intensity as the economic situation worsens.

The economy has been on a freefall since Zanu PF won elections in 2013.
Retrenchments, company closures and capital flight have been a consistent feature in the post-election period making the lives of ordinary citizens increasingly unbearable.

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