President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Friday ordered police to allow farmers to deliver their produce to markets in urban centres after shocking pictures emerged of police burning a truckload of vegetables in Mutare.
Police have been accused of misinterpreting regulations issued in support of a 21-day lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus by taking draconian measures, including arresting shoppers, banning the sale of liquor and stopping farmers from travelling to cities and towns with their fresh farm produce.
Police earlier Friday made a U-turn on the alcohol ban, instead saying alcohol sales would be allowed but consumption should only take place in private homes.
Mnangagwa said in a televised address: “It’s integral that we keep our economy moving forward during this period of lockdown. Food supply should be guaranteed with minimum shocks or disruptions. Farmers must continue to produce for our nation even under conditions of lockdown. Farmers and traders alike must equally continue to deliver produce to markets including to those markets that supply our cities, towns and growth points.
“To that end, I direct our security arms to ensure a pathway for food supply. All agricultural activity must remain undisturbed throughout the period of the lockdown. All our producers must continue to feed the nation with minimum hassles.”
Mutare police raided a market in Sakubva suburb at around 3AM on Friday as rural farmers delivered truckloads of green vegetables and tomatoes. The seized produce was burned.
Images of the incident drew outrage from Zimbabweans on social media, jolting authorities. Police have faced accusations of targeting hungry citizens who are rounded up after venturing out to buy the scarce maize meal staple.
Meanwhile, Mnangagwa said he was pleased with the public response to his call for people to stay at home to help keep coronavirus contained.
“Measures we have taken remain in place and appear to be paying off, but the approaching winter season brings with it greater vulnerabilities. The risk to our nation is rising and growing enormous by the day,” Mnangagwa said.
Zimbabwe has only declared nine cases of coronavirus including one death, but Mnangagwa warned that “we must continue to scale up preparations, we are not out of the woods.”
“I’m proud of the way most of you have responded to the lockdown. Except where absolutely necessary, you have stayed at home together with your families. We have observed and voluntarily enforced social distancing and religiously followed routines of personal hygiene as recommended by the World Health Organisation. Social interactions have either stopped or drastically reduced. We are on the right path,” he said.
Mnangagwa has so far resisted deploying soldiers onto the streets, leaving police to carry out the task. Past army deployments led to allegations of widespread abuses including rap_es and extra judicial killings.
“The deployment of security arms has largely been symbolic, with you, our citizens, heeding the call, taking the lead and showing the way in this pandemic. However, this should not induce complacency among us but motivate us to do more now, and in the weeks and months ahead,” Mnangagwa said, while urging Zimbabweans to “all err on the side of abundant caution.”
“Self-discipline is our safety and collective security as a nation,” he added.
The Zimbabwe leader also praised doctors and nurses who are on the frontline against the global pandemic, pledging more help to ensure they work in a safe environment.
“Elsewhere, the pandemic has shown the potential risks to health personnel who are on the frontline. They need protective gear which is adequate and effective against infections. They must feel safe, secure and sure to care for us with confidence. The government shall therefore continue to prioritise and ensure every health worker is appropriately kitted,” he vowed.