Zimbabwe Blocks Whatsapp As Citizens Protest Economic Mismanagement

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Written by Dana Sanchez

The Zimbabwe government on Wednesday blocked the social media text messaging network Whatsapp as workers and students heeded calls to stay away from work and school on a national shutdown designed to pressure the ruling party over mismanagement of the economy.

Anger is growing in the country as cash shortages intensify. Bond notes are expected to be introduced soon, prompting fears of hyperinflation, which happened from 2006 to 2008, wiping out savings and pensions. A ban on imports is widely seen as cutting off an economic lifeline for many families, News24 reported. And calls are mounting against abuses and brutality by law enforcement. Police are allegedly demanding cash at roadblocks and beating protesters.

The government blamed Whatsapp for spreading lies and inciting people to protest, IndependentOnline reported. By 7 a.m. it was impossible to send or receive Whatsapp messages on any of the country’s mobile telecommunication networks. Those with Wi-Fi access were shut out by mid-morning.

In Harare, most people heeded the call to strike with few vehicles on the road. Those who wanted to report for duty found it difficult to get transportation.

The few commuter taxi operators who ignored the call to park their vehicles in solidarity with the protesters charged fares as high as $2 per single trip instead of the normal 50 cents, according to IOL.

Few shops were open for business Wednesday in the central business district.

Calls for a national shutdown grew out of protests in Beitbridge on Friday and Harare on Monday. There were threats on social media against schools and businesses that refuse to close their doors, News24 reported.

In one message widely circulated on Whatsapp, threats were made against well-known private schools in Harare as well as against Pick n Pay, which has food stores in the capital and other cities.

“Close your businesses tomorrow. This is for the safety of your staff and buildings. Stay away tomorrow and keep the peace please,” read the message, which could not be verified. “Teachers who chose to put their lives at risk… rethink what your heads are requesting of you.”

Zimbabwe has had several “stay aways” since 2000. This one is different. It wasn’t called by any one opposition political party though it does have the support of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change, News24 reported.

Shoppers were seen stocking up in stores Tuesday. “Zimbabweans outchea buying booze and meat like tomorrow’s a national holiday,” said @kodzafox.

Without support from the International Monetary Fund or credit from Western donors, the Zimbabwe government runs a hand-to-mouth budget, spending 82 percent of its revenue on wages, which it is struggling to pay, TimesLive reported.

At Zimbabwe’s largest state hospitals Wednesday, staff were only working on emergencies. “All elective lists have been cancelled until further notice,” a memo said.

“Doctors cannot come to work because they have not been paid. It looks like this (strike) will go on until July 14,” said Fortune Nyamande, head of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors’ Association.

The government has also delayed paying teachers and army and security services.

At most state schools around the capital teachers did not come to work and pupils played outside.

The government said it will pay teachers salaries Thursday, and doctors and nurses on July 14. Army and security services salaries are delayed by two weeks.

On Friday residents protested in the border town of Beitbridge against restrictions on imports of basic goods from South Africa, imposed because of Zimbabwe’s shortage of dollars.