Bulawayo residents are reportedly stocking up on most basic commodities ahead of the planned Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) demonstrations, fearing a repeat of the January protests which left most residents stranded after retail outlets in the city were vandalised.
The mainstream opposition party is planning to hold a series of demonstrations – against the debilitating economy – in Harare on August 16, Bulawayo on August 19 and in Gweru on August 20.
The violent January protests, triggered by a hike in fuel prices, left a trail of destruction in most western suburbs as shops were looted and vandalised by unknown people.
The government reacted by unleashing the army to quell the violence and there were reports of torture and beatings of residents while the city was put on lockdown.
In a snap informal survey conducted by CITE in the Central Business District, residents were observed buying most basic commodities in bulk.
One resident at a local supermarket, who identified herself as Mrs Sithole said she wants to be prepared for any situation.
“We are only seeing WhatsApp messages circulating, we are not even sure if these marches will happen. I do not want a repeat of the January situation where we went for more than a week without most basics,” she said.
Another resident, Ndabezinhle Tshuma said they were caught unawares in January and were left scrounging for food.
“It was a tough situation for us as most shops were looted, so this time around I want to be on the safe side if anything like that is to happen,” said Tshuma.
“To say these demos are going to take place or not will be too early for me to judge as we hear that they will take place in different phases, but with the rate at which prices are being increased anything might happen.”
He added that there were worried that retailers might take advantage of the situation to increase prices.
“Some retailers might cash in on the demonstrations by hiking the prices of basic commodities, so it is wise to buy now when you are uncertain of how the situation will unfold.
A shop attendant at a local supermarket who spoke to CITE on condition of anonymity said they had noticed an increase in people buying basic commodities in bulk since the onset of the Heroes public holiday.
“We have noticed that people are doing panic buying, especially on basic commodities. As a business, we are also keeping an eye on the situation as we do not want to be affected just like what happened to some businesses in January.
“We just hope that this time around it will be a peaceful demonstration if ever it is going to succeed,” she said.
In a statement, Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage Minister, Cain Mathema said they were aware of “under activities” by the MDC to unleash violence during the demonstrations.
Mathema said they had information that government buildings and members of the public will be attacked during the demonstrations by the opposition party which is accused of engaging foreign nationals and street kids to unleash violence.
However, the opposition has rebuffed the reports saying it will employ its own security mechanisms amid fears that state agents would be planted to hijack the protests.