Darkness hung over Harare’s central business district, which looked dark and abandoned by 19:00 on Wednesday after Pick n Pay, OK Zimbabwe, Chicken Inn and Nando’s outlets closed down at 18:00.
These were the few businesses that were open on Wednesday as protests called to raise public disgruntlement over corruption, delayed salaries for civil servants and cash shortages halted economic activity.
Banks such as Standard Chartered and Stanbic did not open on Wednesday while the country was also hit with a WhatsApp outage.
The instant messaging platform was however restored later in the day amid government warnings that those sharing information about the protests will be arrested.
“We are packing up and closing down early today because there has been no business. We normally close very later after 22:00, but we also have to get home early,” said an employee at a Nando’s outlet in central Harare as she served the last two customers for the day.
Pick n Pay and OK Zimbabwe supermarkets also closed at 18:00 on Wednesday. Petrol stations had also closed shop, although some were still open at the time of writing, while others did not undertake business throughout the day.
“Food Lovers Market is not one of my shops and it’s closed. It’s the largest supermarket in Avondale,” tweeted businessman Shingi Munyeza, who runs franchised restaurants such as News Cafe in Harare.
In Zimbabwe, Chicken Inn, Nando’s and Steers franchises are run by Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed Innscor Africa Limited.
Reports from Bulawayo, the second largest city, also indicated that business activity had been low. There were also reports that some white men had been arrested in Victoria Falls while staging protests.
More than 110 people were arrested in Zimbabwe on Wednesday during a nationwide shut-down that the authorities later said was a “flop”, according to reports by the state Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.
Seventy-five people were arrested in Bulawayo, 19 in Harare and 17 in Victoria Falls, the ZBC said in separate reports.
Police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba told reporters that 17 people had been arrested for staging unsanctioned protests in Matebeleland North, while another man had been nabbed for possessing a “home-made petrol bomb”.
Despite this, some government officials insisted it had been business as usual. President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party held a politburo meeting in the capital as the mass protests and stay-away grounded business and economic activity.