The Bulawayo Central Business District was turned into a restricted zone, Tuesday, as security forces turned away thousands of residents while most businesses were forced to shut down operations.
Police officers and soldiers manning roadblocks along main roads leading to the city centre turned away people and only allowed health workers and security officers to go through.
Some workers who presented their exemption letters were told to go back home.
Commuters who were using public transport were forced to walk back home after Zupco buses dumped them at roadblocks while they proceeded into town.
The shutdown comes after President Emmerson Mnangagwa eased restrictions on movement last Friday, saying it was time to revive the economy – allowed the informal sector, including open markets, to resume operations and churches to reopen.
Residents who had woken up in the wee hours to queue at banks were also chased away by the security forces.
In an interview with CITE, Bulawayo Police Spokesperson, Inspector Abednico Ncube said there was nothing amis with the operation as they were enforcing the Level 2 regulations.
“Vendors were mushrooming and many people roamed the streets. People should realise that we are still in Level 2 of the National Lockdown and there are regulations that have to be followed because COVID-19 is still a threat,” he insisted.
Inspector Ncube said he was unaware that residents with exemption letters were turned away.
“That is news to me because those with letters are authorised to move but as I said we are in a lockdown,” he said.
Police sources alleged such forcible action to shut the city could mean “authorities had heard rumours of a demonstration and since they were proactive, were trying to block it.”
The opposition claimed the closure of the CBD was suspicious and could be possible that security forces were up to something or knew something was happening.
MDC Alliance Bulawayo Spokesperson, Swithern Chirowodza, highlighted that the last time a city was closed, authorities helped its rival MDC-T occupy party offices in Harare.
“Our intelligence points exactly to that. We are watching today’s closure of Bulawayo’s CBD with a close eye as we are fully aware of the possibility of security forces helping MDC-Lacoste (faction of the party led by Thokozani Khupe) to seize our offices. It’s very possible because, in Harare, MDC-Lacoste used the security forces as a shield when they seized our headquarters at 10 pm on June 4, 2020.
As of now, security forces have removed all vendors operating near Gertrude Mthombeni House (name of the Bulawayo Provincial Office). That is an ominous sign,” he told CITE in an interview.