Zimbabwe deployed police in townships around the capital, Harare, on Wednesday amid calls for a strike by state workers over an economic collapse that has led to a shortage of cash, import controls and the failure of the government to pay salaries on time.
While the government warned workers not to join the stay away, some schools have closed and there was little traffic on main roads into the city.
The labour action was called following the Finance Ministry’s announcement that it was delaying pay for state workers, including the military, and riots on Monday sparked by protests by taxi drivers over alleged police harassment.
“If they take part in an unsanctioned process there will be consequences, and they must disregard this call for a stay away,” Supa Mandiwanzira, the action public service minister, said on Wednesday by phone.
President Robert Mugabe’s administration has faced a worsening cash shortage in recent months. Since abandoning its own currency in 2009 to end hyperinflation, Zimbabwe has used mainly US dollars, as well as South African rand, euros, and British pounds.
The government spends about 83% of its revenue on wages for state workers, according to Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa.
On Monday, Harare was hit by riots as taxi operators protested against what they said was police harassment. Violent clashes also erupted last weekend at Zimbabwe’s main border post with South Africa, forcing its closure, when the government banned the import of certain goods.
The riots started when minibus taxi operators staged demonstrations in suburbs around the capital to complain that police routinely demand money when they stop vehicles to check whether they are roadworthy. Police responded by unleashing dogs and firing tear gas.
Police have arrested 95 people in Harare and they will appear in court on Wednesday, spokeswoman Charity Charamba told reporters in the capital on Tuesday, saying “criminal elements are instigating and inciting” people. There have been calls for a general stay-away on Wednesday on social media.
“We are seeing people being pushed into a corner and they have no option but to confront the regime,” Showers Mawowa, research manager at the Cape Town-based civil-rights group Southern African Liaison Office, said by phone on Tuesday.
Former Vice President Joice Mujuru, who was expelled from the ruling party, urged Mugabe to call new elections and the police to protect protesters.
“His government has totally failed the people and this is why we are now seeing the demonstrations in the country,” Mujuru told reporters on Tuesday at her home in Harare.