Sombre mood in Harare as shops shut early

Military seen on Wednesday on a street in Zimbabwe. (Supplied)
Military seen on Wednesday on a street in Zimbabwe. (Supplied)

Harare – Zimbabweans largely heeded calls by the military, which has assumed authority in the country, to limit unnecessary movements on Wednesday.

Streets in the central business district were already emptying up and parking bays were deserted by 19:00. A sombre mood pervaded the city as motorists scurried home and commuter taxi drivers ferried people home.

Businesses such as Pick n Pay, Nando’s and Chicken Inn closed early on Wednesday and Harare streets emptied up just before 20:00.

The military was less visible compared to the heavy presence in the morning, with roads passing through parliament re-opened to traffic. However, at a state-controlled radio station in the high suburb of Mbare, armed soldiers conducted random searches of vehicles passing by, and this was without incident.

“We are already closing up; everyone has to be home and safe early,” a manager at Simbisa Brands, controlled by Innscor, said. Innscor also runs Chicken Inn, Steers and Nando’s outlets in central Harare.

At a Pick n Pay outlet in the Joina City complex in Harare, attendants were already closing the doors shortly after 19:30, forcing shoppers to rush inside before the shop was shut. The shop normally closes at 22:00, while some of the fast foods counters usually stay open until after midnight.

Business leaders said it was mostly normal, despite the takeover of authority by the military on Wednesday. Their takeover - they said - is a bid to address the issue of “criminals” around President Robert Mugabe, who were causing economic and social suffering in the country.

“Business is now low, but we had brisk business between 16:00 and 19:00. It seems people knocked off early today and we are now about to knock off too; its better to follow developments on WhatsApp from home,” said a commuter operator who only identified himself as Tendai.

Normal programing had been restored on state broadcaster, ZTV, which covered statements by the military calling for calm and giving assurances that Mugabe was safe. Reports filtered in that backers of Grace Mugabe had been arrested, although no official confirmation could be obtained.

Mugabe, who turns 94 next February, was said to be confined to his home amid reports that a settlement was being negotiated. The latest political upheavals in Zimbabwe have come a few days after Mugabe fired his former deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Mnangagwa allegedly enjoys the backing of the military.

Sources say he is angling to portray himself as a reformist and will be back in the country shortly. It is expected that he will make himself available to contest for the leadership of the ruling Zanu-PF party, in power since independence in 1980.

A military tank is seen with armed soldiers on the road leading to President Robert Mugabe's office in Harare. (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, AP)

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