Notes meant to ease cash shortages, but opposition and citizens fear release will trigger economic chaos
Source: Zimbabwean activists held before launch of emergency ‘bond notes’ | World news | The Guardian November 18, 2016
Authorities in Zimbabwe have arrested dozens of opposition activists before the launch of controversial “bond notes”, which the government hopes will inject desperately needed cash into the failing economy of the former British colony.
Many ordinary people fear the bond notes will trigger economic chaos, wiping out savings and livelihoods.
Those arrested include Patson Dzamara, a high-profile opponent of President Robert Mugabe and the ruling Zanu-PF party, who was found at a local hospital 24 hours after the car in which he had been travelling with another activist was discovered burnt out.
Dzamara, who appeared to have been badly beaten with sticks or rods, according to pictures posted on social media, was one of the coordinators of a coalition of opposition groups that had pledged to “shut down” major cities in Zimbabwe on Friday to protest against corruption, alleged human rights violations and the bond notes.
His brother, Itai, has been missing since being abducted by unidentified men in March last year. Officials have said they are doing all they can to locate him.
The British ambassador to Zimbabwe, Catriona Lang, said on Friday the UK was “very concerned by reports of abductions of civil society activists”. She said: “Rule of law, and freedom of expression [are] crucial for Zimbabwe’s future.”
The EU said it had “received reports indicating that some social activists have been abducted and brutalised by unknown persons in the run-up to [Friday’s] demonstrations” and called on the authorities to protect its citizens from abduction and torture “regardless of their political opinions”.
Zimbabwe has been hit by successive waves of unrest in recent months, prompted by a deepening economic crisis, cash shortages and persistent high unemployment. The government has been repeatedly forced to delay salary payments to teachers, doctors, soldiers and administrators. The country is also suffering a severe drought and is threatened by famine in some parts.
The central bank says bond notes are meant to ease crippling cash shortages, but this is stoking concerns it could open the door to rampant printing of cash, as happened in 2008. The introduction of the US dollar as the official currency in 2009 halted the sky-high and accelerating inflation, but the government is now short of cash.
Zimbabwean banks are limiting daily withdrawals to between $40 (£32) and $100 and some firms have struggled to repatriate dividends and pay foreign debts.
Observers say the pressure on Mugabe, Africa’s oldest leader, and the Zanu-PF party is immense. Officials have previously described the protesters as terrorists and have blamed foreign powers for sabotaging the economy and stirring unrest. Ignatious Chombo, Zanu-PF’s administration secretary, accused western embassies in Harare and opposition parties of trying to cause anarchy.
Political violence in Zimbabwe has increased dramatically, with record levels of assault, abduction and torture. About 654 cases of political violence were recorded by local NGO the Counselling Services Unit in 2016, as of 21 October, compared with 476 cases in the whole of 2015. The CSU found that assaults were overwhelmingly perpetrated by the state’s security forces – including police, military and the secretive Central Intelligence Organisation.
Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980, will seek re-election in 2018. Zanu-PF retained power after elections in 2013, which were tainted by allegations of vote-rigging.
Tendai Biti, an opposition politician, said the bond notes would be a disaster. He said: “We are already in a disastrous situation. We are in a deep recession. If you add bond notes there will be the return of the black market, hyperinflation. It will be a dog’s breakfast.”