Zimbabweans across the country yesterday largely ignored calls for a stayaway called by shadowy groups and other regime change agents on social media, as they went about their businesses as usual.
The shadowy groups cunningly scheduled their stayaway/shutdown call to coincide with strike action by civil servants protesting against a delay in the payment of their June salaries, a development that saw the opposition groups willfully conflate the civil service action with their stayaway call, to claim false success.
Civil servants’ representatives, who began a two-day job action on Tuesday over salary delays, distanced themselves from yesterday’s protests, urging their members to avoid the protests.
Teachers and nurses said they would only resume work when their salaries have been paid.
Teachers received their June salaries yesterday, while the health sector will be paid tomorrow.
Apex Council team leader, Mrs Cecilia Alexander said: “The Council informs the employer and the nation that the current civil service job action is completely non-political and non-partisan and should in no way be associated with the cause by other political and social groups whose agendas have nothing to do with our labour disputes with Government.
“May it also be noted that civil servants are staying at home not in the streets as a result of incapacitation.
“The Apex Council regrets the coincidences and timing. Our action will run its full course as advised up to July 7.”
However, several businesses in the banking and retail sectors were open with police doing everything to ensure hoodlums would not interfere with people going about their business.
Though traffic was initially low early morning, by midday it had significantly increased as people were wary of being attacked by hooligans who threatened to assault and burn businesses that defied the stayaway call.
Queues were a common feature at some banks’ ATMs as depositors took the opportunity to withdraw their money without having to wait for too long, and when it became evident that the shutdown had gone largely unheeded, the groups began photoshopping images whichthey circulated on social media claiming bombings and burning of various buildings among them Government Offices at Munhumutapa Building, NRZ wagons, Chronicle Building in Bulawayo and Choppies supermarkets but people soon called their bluff.
The Herald interviewed several people in different parts of the country who dismissed the shutdown call as counter-productive.
In Harare, informal traders and large supermarkets such as Pick n Pay, OK and Choppies as well as fast-food outlets were open for business.
Popular home industries and markets such as Siyaso in Mbare, Gulf Complex in Harare’s central business district were open, while Area 8 in Glen View famed for affordable furniture was a hive of activity as people went about their daily chores.
Vendors were also seen selling their wares at various selling points.
Areas visited by The Herald in Harare included Highlands, Greendale, Rhodesville, Braeside, Hatfield, Maruta Shopping Centre, Makoni Shopping Centre in Chitungwiza, Unit L and St Mary’s and, it was business as usual.
In isolated cases, some business owners closed their shops for fear of threats of looting by some rogue elements.
A carpenter who spoke to The Herald in Glen View Mr Philemon Madya said: “This is the peak period of our business since it is the tobacco selling season. I cannot be seen absenting myself from work simply because I received a message from someone whom I don’t even know telling me that I should not go to work. I have a family to look after, and that person who is sending those messages will not help me to pay school fees and my rentals.”
A Glen View 3 woman Mrs Catherine Thom also told The Herald: “Human and vehicle traffic was low in the morning, and some shops were closed. However, by midday, it was business as usual, as a number of shops opened for normal business. By nightfall, we had not heard anything untoward happening in this part of Gleniew. Movement was limited by threats sent through social media.”
A vendor in Chitungwiza, Mr Spencer Mlambo said: “If had decided to join this protest, I would not have made any cash today. I would have lost a lot. What I can only say is that business was a bit low because most people were afraid to move out of their houses because of the threats they received on their mobile phones.”
An informal trader at Gazaland Shopping Centre in Highfield who identified himself as Victor, said: “I don’t even know what this demonstration is all about. What is the reason for me to join it?
“I only heard about it from one of my friends yesterday, and I think it will be senseless for me to just follow WhatsApp messages sent by people whom I don’t even know.”
In Beitbridge, the situation was calm although most shops in the central business district and Dulibadzimu suburb remained closed for fear of looting by the protesters.
Border officials said movement was low as people had adopted a wait and see attitude on the situation, following violent protests, which rocked the town last Friday over the implementation of the new import regulations.
Few public transport vehicles were seen shuttling between the border, town and the Dulivhadzimu suburb.
Teachers and nurses did not report for duty in the town following a call by their unions to stop going to work until they received their June salaries.
Service stations and major shops were operating under the watchful eye of armed anti-riot police.
Illegal fuel dealers suspended operations for fear of security personnel who were on patrol at all strategic areas and major roads.
The situation was the same in Chinhoyi with people largely ignoring the strike.
Some shops did not open in the morning but had done so by mid-morning after people realised that it was safe.
Police maintained a heavy presence throughout the day.
School children at some schools were turned away after teachers failed to attend classes while some children spent the better part of the day playing or milling around the school yards.
Residents interviewed said the strike was retrogressive as it wasted production time.
“While people have a right to demonstrate, it has in the past shown that the economy suffers and the conditions are worse off. There is need for dialogue if problems are to be solved holistically,” said Shepherd Museyami.
Chinhoyi Hospital remained partially open for serious cases only with the rest of the nurses and doctors not attending to patients.
In Masvingo, business was low but some banks such as Agribank and the People’s Own Savings Bank (POSB) were open for business.
Schools did not conduct lessons and children who reported for classes were sent back home in the morning.
There was a heavy police presence in the CBD, while small groups of police officers were deployed at strategic positions in residential areas for the whole day.