Zimbabwe's minister of foreign affairs and international trade on Monday defended crackdowns on anti-government demonstrations and urged patience in turning around the country's foundering economy.
Though "everybody's got the right to demonstrate," there have "been a lot of insinuations and campaigns of violence," Sibusiso B. Moyo told VOA in an interview. Citing public safety, he endorsed a Zimbabwe court's ruling hours earlier to uphold a police ban on a protest organized by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) alliance.
Alliance leaders are pressing President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the ruling ZANU-PF party for a role in a transitional government. They had organized a demonstration Monday in Bulawayo, the country's second-largest city, but police authorities banned it hours before its intended start. Two other opposition demonstrations still are planned this week: for the central city of Gweru on Tuesday and the southeastern city of Masvingo on Wednesday.
Police also had pre-emptively banned a demonstration in Harare last Friday, a decision upheld by a Zimbabwe court. Hundreds of MDC supporters ignored the ban, leading to clashes between civilians and police. Video and photographs showed police hitting and kicking some demonstrators among actions that drew complaints of excessive force from civil and human rights groups, including the United Nations human rights office.
Police, not demonstrators, showed up in force on Bulawayo streets Monday, with foot patrols wielding shields, batons and, in some cases, pistols. The Associated Press reported police trucks and water cannons positioned in the downtown area.
A young man in Bulawayo, identifying himself only as James, told VOA that negotiations between the government and opposition leaders were even more important than demonstrations.
"Honestly, to demonstrate, we can end up being hurt by being beaten, being chased around. There's really nothing that we see coming out of it," James said. "But these men should sit down and see what they can do for us, especially us, the youth. … We have been affected a lot, and we are getting old just running."
Moyo, the foreign minister, told VOA the administration is "undertaking economic reforms [that] are fundamental and they are key to ensuring that even the youth would finally have jobs created for them, so that we can create an environment where investors and the capital will find it easy to come into this country, where jobs will be created, and the youth will be part and parcel of economic activity."
Moyo said Zimbabwe is midway into a two-year "transition stabilization program" to revive the country's devastated economy: "We have got one year to go and we are saying we should by then be out of the doldrums."
The southern African country of nearly 16 million is experiencing its worst financial crisis since 2008, beset by hyperinflation and the fallout of decades of corruption. Many struggle to buy basics such as food and medicine. With the poor economy and crops devastated by drought and a spring cyclone, the UN World Food Program anticipates that 5.5 million people will need emergency food aid by next April.
Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube, who had predicted 3.1% growth for 2019, offered a sobering update to Zimbabwe's parliament in early August. "The revised 2019 GDP growth is expected to be negative," Reuters news service reported him as saying.
Ncube did not provide any updated figure.