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Zimbabwean police fire tear gas to dispel opposition protesters4 minutes read

Police fire tear gas and beat opposition party’s protesters demonstrating against police brutality

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Zimbabwean protesters defy ban on rally amidst harsh police suppression
A protester holds a copy of the Constitution of Zimbabwe during a demonstration and clashes with the police in Harare on August 16, 2019. - Riot police in Zimbabwe fire teargas and beat demonstrators on August 16 during a crackdown on opposition supporters who have taken to Harare's streets despite a protest ban. (Photo by Zinyange Auntony / AFP)

Riot police in Zimbabwe fired teargas and beat demonstrators on Friday during a crackdown on opposition supporters who have taken to Harare’s streets despite a protest ban.

Scores of people gathered in the capital’s Africa Unity Square to demonstrate against the country’s worsening economy in defiance of the ban, which was upheld by a court on Friday.

Supporters of Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) sang songs condemning police brutality as officers fired teargas to disperse them.

Police also cornered a group of protesters and beat them with batons, with one woman carried into a Red Cross ambulance.

“People were just singing, people were happy, peacefully. Then they saw the police coming — they were encircling people, they were actually surrounding the supporters then they came closer to us and started beating people,” a 35-year-old protester who gave her name as Achise told reporters. 

She also claimed the police beat “an old woman, I heard she was seriously injured.”

“This is worse than during colonial times,” said a man who declined to be identified. “We aren’t armed but the police just beat us while we were sitting on the street”.

‘Long-suffering people’ –

Dozens of police and three water cannons were involved in running street battles with protesters in the square, which overlooks the country’s parliament and is where thousands gathered in November 2017 calling for then-President Robert Mugabe to step down during a military-led coup.

Friday’s protests went ahead after opposition plans for large-scale marches were banned by police late Thursday.

An MDC attempt to challenge the ban in court was then rejected.

Zimbabwean police fire tear gas to dispel opposition protesters
A protester is beaten on the ground by police near Unity Square in Harare on August 16, 2019. (Photo by Zinyange Auntony / AFP)

“The court has said the demonstration should be off,” MDC spokesman Nkululeko Sibanda told reporters.

The party’s Vice President Tendai Biti told reporters outside the high court that “we differ respectfully with the ruling”.

“The fascist regime has denied the right for Zimbabweans to demonstrate,” said Biti.

“There is no difference between (President Emmerson) Mnangagwa and Mugabe. We jumped from the frying pan into the fire after the November coup,” Biti told reporters outside the court. 

Mnangagwa took over as President from long-time autocrat Mugabe and went on to win disputed July 2018 elections, vowing to revive Zimbabwe’s economy.

But Zimbabweans say things have gone from bad to worse, with people facing shortages of basic goods and skyrocketing prices.

Five million face ‘starvation’ –

Around five million people — almost a third of the country’s 16 million population — are in need of aid and at least half of them are on the cusp of “starvation”, the World Food Programme (WFP) said this month.

Armed police had put up barricades across the city early Friday in a bid to deter protesters, turning back cars on streets leading to the MDC’s party headquarters.

Long queues of traffic formed as the police searched cars and commuter buses for weapons. Riot police also searched pedestrians. 

The government, through the Information Ministry’s Twitter account, described the attacks on protesters as “a few skirmishes” adding that “normalcy has returned to Harare”. 

“Security remains on high alert and deployed to ensure safety of the citizenry and security of property,” it said.

Local rights group, Heal Zimbabwe said in a series of tweets that police had rounded up scores of people in several of the city’s townships and surrounding neighbourhoods.

At least six opposition and rights activists were abducted and tortured by unidentified assailants in the days leading up to the protest, according to the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, a coalition of 21 human rights groups.

Another MDC spokesman, Daniel Molokele vowed;

“We are not backing down, we are going forward, the people of Zimbabwe are tired, they are fed up they want to end this long suffering so we are proceeding with the marches for a free Zimbabwe.”

Friday’s protests are the first since rallies in January against Mnangagwa’s decision to hike fuel prices that ended in deadly clashes with troops. 

At least 17 people were killed and scores wounded after the army used force, including live ammunition, to end the demonstrations.

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South Africa scales back public spending in budget presentation to parliament

All eyes will thus be on Finance Minister Tito Mboweni as he is expected to scale back public spending and find ways to raise revenue.

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South African Finance Minister, Tito Mboweni./AFP

South Africa’s finance minister, Tito Mboweni is expected to walk a tightrope during the annual budget presentation to parliament on Wednesday, as the economy teeters on the edge of a fiscal cliff.

The continent’s most industrialised economy has in recent years lurched from one economic woe to the next.

Weak growth, deteriorating public finances including a swollen budget deficit, crippling power cuts and soaring unemployment still cloud the outlook, an AFP report said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has alluded to the crises, warning during a state of the nation address last week that government debt was “heading towards unsustainable levels”.

The “economy has not grown at any meaningful rate for over a decade”, said Ramaphosa, adding that desperately needed growth was being hampered by persistent power outages imposed by state-owned electricity firm Eskom.

Unemployment is creeping towards 30 percent, the highest level in more than a decade.

All eyes will thus be on Finance Minister Tito Mboweni as he is expected to scale back public spending and find ways to raise revenue.

Faced with a national debt equivalent to around 60 percent of gross domestic product and a budget deficit of around 5.9 percent of GDP, Mboweni has little room to manoeuvre.

“The government continues to find itself unable to flex the political muscle required to implement the sweeping reforms it has been promising,” noted Eurasia Group Africa director Darias Jonker.

Old Mutual Investment Group’s chief economist Johann Els emphasised that the treasury had been “unable to rein in the budget deficits” over the past few years. 

“It is really now or never,” he cautioned.

– ‘Slow growth, credit downgrades’ -Mboweni’s budget will also be under the scrutiny of international ratings agency Moody’s, the only major assessor that still considers South African debt to be investment grade.

Fitch and S&P downgraded its credit rating to junk status in 2017.

“We are on the verge of a Moody’s rating downgrade, and if we don’t stabilise the deficit and get spending under control, they will downgrade us,” Els said.

Losing its last investment grade rating could spark an exodus from South Africa’s bond markets and pile pressure on the rand.

The country’s lacklustre economic performance is largely a result of domestic issues.

Repeated bailouts to state-owned entities over the past decade — most notably to Eskom and flag-carrier South African Airways — have drained state coffers.

“The government desperately needs to move away from consumption expenditure and to infrastructure investment,” said Azar Jammine, chief economist at Econometrix, an independent consultancy firm.

In the past five years, South Africa has posted it weakest growth rates — never exceeding 1.3 percent and in certain years falling below one percent.

Treasury officials expect the economy to have expanded by around 0.5 percent in 2019.

The World Bank recently warned that South Africa was on a precipice, and cut its economic growth forecast to below one percent in 2020 as well due to electricity supply concerns.

“This paucity of growth also means there is no question of raising new revenue through new taxes,” said Geordin Hill-Lewis, the opposition Democratic Alliance’s shadow finance minister.

The minister must “present a credible plan to stabilise national debt, contain the budget deficit and prevent a fiscal crisis,” Hill-Lewis concluded.

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Politics

Anger over forced sterilisation of black pregnant HIV patients in South African hospitals

Some of the complainants said they were given the forms in moments of “extreme pain” during which they could not fully grasp the content, the report said.

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Dozens of black HIV-positive pregnant women have continued to be forcefully sterilised by health officials in South African hospitals, an inquiry found out on Monday prompting anger by women’s rights organisations.

The inquiry concluded that their rights had been breached and called for government action, an AFP report said.

The investigation was launched in 2015, when two women’s rights organisations approached South Africa’s Gender Equality Commission (CGE) with 48 documented cases of coerced sterilisation.

CGE obtained sworn affidavits from the complainants on the alleged procedures. 

“All the women who had lodged the complaint were black women who were mostly HIV positive,” CGE head Keketso Maema said in the report released on Monday.

“Just before giving birth… they were coerced or forced to sign forms that they later learnt through various means were consent forms allegedly permitting the hospital to sterilise them.”

Investigators found that hospital staff threatened to deny women medical attention if they did not sign the paperwork.

Some of the complainants said they were given the forms in moments of “extreme pain” during which they could not fully grasp the content, the report said.

The commission concluded that the women suffered several rights violations and were subjected to “degrading treatment”.

It also accused medical staff of breaching their “duty of care”.

The report, which has been sent to the health ministry, advises the government to review sterilisation paperwork.

A cooling-off period between the signing of consent forms and the operation itself was also recommended.   

The health ministry’s spokesman did not immediately respond to requests to comment.

The total number of people living with HIV in South Africa increased to 7.97 million in 2019 from around 4.64 million in 2002, according to government statistics.

Around 13.5 percent of the total population was found to be HIV positive last year.

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Politics

Alleged murder of ex-wife lands Lesotho Prime Minister in court

Thabane had initially been due in court on Friday for the preliminary appearance but was a no-show, prompting police to warn they could issue an arrest warrant.

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Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thabane/Google

Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thabane
on Monday appeared in a Maseru court where he is expected to be charged with murdering his estranged wife.

Thabane had at the weekend said he was receiving “emergency” medical treatment in South Africa hence his failure to appear in court last Friday, an AFP report said.

Thabane, 80, arrived at the magistrates court in the capital Maseru where charges are expected to be formally read out to him for allegedly having acted in “common purpose” in the June 2017 killing of 58-year old Lipolelo Thabane, whom he was in the process of divorcing.

He was accompanied by his current wife Maesaiah Thabane, 42, whom he married two months after Lipolelo’s death and who is considered a co-conspirator in the murder case. She has already been charged with murder and is out on bail.

Thabane had initially been due in court on Friday for the preliminary appearance but was a no-show, prompting police to warn they could issue an arrest warrant.

His aide initially said Thabane had gone to neighbouring South Africa for “routine” health checks, but later his office said he was seeking “emergency” medical attention and would appear in court on his return.

On Saturday police said the authorities would wait for Thabane’s return to resume his case after his lawyers said they had a sick note proving that the premier would be “unfit” until February 27.

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