As It Happens

Ordinary people beaten, detained during deadly Zimbabwe crackdown, says reporter

Christina Lamb of the Sunday Times says she's seen people with dog bites, bruises and and whip lashes.

Christina Lamb of the Sunday Times says she's seen people with dog bites, bruises and whip lashes

Family members grieve during a funeral for Kelvin Tinashe Choto, killed during the violent crackdown by security forces in Zimbabwe. (Tsvangirayi Mukwazh/As It Happens)

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Regular people with no ties to the opposition are getting swept up in a violent government crackdown in Zimbabwe, says Sunday Times foreign correspondent Christina Lamb.

The country has been rocked by protests and retaliations since the government hiked fuel prices earlier this month. The crackdown comes after a general strike Monday to protest the move, which saw the cost of petrol and diesel more than double overnight. 

Reporters and rights groups say police and military forces have beaten, arrested, and even shot citizens in the street. At least a dozen people have been killed over the last week, reports The Associated Press. 

Lamb spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off  about the mood on the ground as tensions grow.

Christina, I know you spent the last four days in Zimbabwe during this crackdown — what did you see, what did you hear about?

I met dozens and dozens of people who had been caught up in this crackdown. People who had been asleep in bed who had people banging on their door, and then their doors broken down.

People apparently in army and police uniforms came and beat them, in some cases ordered children to roll in the mud and then beat the children.

They also detained lots of people. I also met many who had had dogs set on them — [they had] dog bites, and bruises and scars from big whips.

A victim of police and army brutality during the fuel price hike protests shows the injuries he suffered on his back, at a local clinic in Harare on Jan. 18. (EPA-EFE)

And who were this people? Why were they targeted?

The government says that these were opposition people who were deliberately provoking violence and to protect the population they had to respond.

The problem is that many of the people that I spoke to were not opposition people or activists. They were just ordinary people who were quite scared to go out because of the protests so were staying at home.

I met a mother, a widow who has eight children, four of her own and four of her late sister's. Her door was broken down and they were all dragged outside and beaten by the police. These people had nothing to do with any of this activity.

There are still people who are hiding in the bush because they're scared to go back to their homes.

I also went to the courts in Harare, where lots of people were appearing who had been detained. We don't know the exact number, but the estimate is that more than 700 people have been detained. One courtroom I went to alone had more than 61 people appearing who had been picked up from one place.

A school boy looks at a burning barricade during a shutdown demonstration on Jan. 14 Bulawayo after the president announced a more than 100 per cent hike in fuel prices. (Zinyange Auntony/AFP/Getty Images)

You have been covering this story for decades, what's been going on in Zimbabwe. You know that people thought that when Robert Mugabe was ousted that this was going to turn around, and briefly the economy did get better, from a disastrous state of affairs. So what is going on? What is President Emerson Mnangagwa up to at this point?

The president, Emerson Mnangagwa, whose nickname is "The Crocodile," was Mugabe's right-hand man for decades. He was his vice-president. He was his intelligence chief. He was defence minister.

And he was also the architect of what's known as the Gukurahundi Massacre in the 1980s in the south of Zimbabwe where at least 10,000 people were killed.

There is history there.

This is a regime that has used violence to suppress any kind of opposition over and over again and has sadly got away with it.

What is really sad is there was hope in November 2017, when the army moved against Robert Mugabe and people thought things were finally going to change.

But what we're seeing here is the same old techniques being used, but worse in a way, because Mugabe's thugs were only acting during election time, and very specifically against opposition activists, and so this seems to be a whole new scale.

The other thing is they completely shut down the internet over the past week, which they said was to stop prostesters from contacting each other, but clearly appeared to me to stop anything getting out of what was actually happening inside Zimbabwe.

Finally, the president is on his way back to Zimbabwe. His spokesperson has said that this violence is just "a foretaste of things to come." What's going to happen? Do you think this will continue or get worse?

Certainly, people are very scared. They don't know what's going to happen next. It's very uncertain.

It has to be said, in the past in Zimbabwe where things have seemed to be getting worse and worse, then suddenly nothing much has happened because people have generally have been very non-violent.

But I do think that people have been pushed so much now that things are a little different, so we'll see.

Written by Alison Broverman with files from Associated Press. Interview produced by Sarah Joyce-Battersby. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 


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