Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Tuesday that misconduct by security forces reacting to protests over fuel price hikes would be investigated, but he added the increases were the right thing to do.
“Violence or misconduct by our security forces is unacceptable and a betrayal of the new Zimbabwe,” Mnangagwa wrote on Twitter, in his first public comments since returning home from a trip to Russia and other former Soviet countries.
“Misconduct will be investigated. If required, heads will roll,” Mnangagwa said, calling for a “national dialogue” over the protests.
Police say three people died during violent demonstrations in Harare and Zimbabwe’s second city Bulawayo last week, but human rights groups say evidence suggests at least a dozen were killed. Hundreds have been detained.
Critics accuse Mnangagwa’s government of shutting off the Internet to prevent a security clampdown from being broadcast to the world.
The opposition MDC has also accused the Mnangagwa administration of cracking down on its members.
Responding to the Zimbabwean leader’s call for an investigation, Jacob Mafume, an MDC spokesman, said there was an urgent need for dialogue.
“The arrest of labour leaders and opposition members is a familiar script in Africa. We have called for dialogue until our voices have gone hoarse but have been ignored,” Mafume said.
Fuel price hike triggers unrest
The announcement followed Mnangagwa’s arrival in Harare after the Zimbabwean president broke off his trip to Europe, including a stop at the Davos summit.
“I am happy that the country is quiet. Our people should concentrate on their work,” Mnangagwa said after landing late on Monday night. “There are channels of communication. We want Zimbabwe developed.”
But the UN’s human rights office has criticised his government’s reaction to the protests.
The violent demonstrations erupted on January 14 after Mnangagwa announced petrol prices would more than double in a country that suffers daily shortages of banknotes, fuel, food and medicine.
He flew to Russia soon after making the price hike announcement in a televised address to the nation.
Accused of conducting a deadly crackdown on dissent, the army and police denied any wrongdoing, saying some assailants raiding homes were wearing official uniforms to pose as security personnel.
Mugabe’s out, but troubles remain
Mnangagwa, 76, had pledged a fresh start for the country when he came to power in November 2017 after Robert Mugabe was toppled, ending 37 years in office that were marked by authoritarian rule and economic collapse.
But Zimbabweans have seen little evidence of the promised economic revival or increased political freedoms.
Mugabe, now 94, ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist from independence from Britain in 1980 until 14 months ago.
The military, fearing that Mugabe’s wife Grace was being lined up to succeed him, seized control and forced him to resign before ushering Mnangagwa to power.