HARARE – When the government ordered internet service providers to shut down the internet in an effort to curb anti-government protests, it also plunged homes into darkness because people cannot pay their utilities online.

Most Zimbabweans use Econet’s Ecocash mobile-phone payment system for daily transactions. They mostly buy electricity in units of $5 or less and almost all domestic users are on prepaid meters, so many buy for $1 at a time.

According to Zimbabwe’s Finance Ministry, less than five percent of commercial transactions in the country involve cash, mainly because it is hard to find. Instead, Zimbabweans use Ecocash or bank cards.

“Tonight will be spent in darkness,” said 42-year-old John Pedzesai, who sells plants on a sidewalk in the capital, Harare.

Econet, Zimbabwe’s biggest mobile-phone company, confirmed that the government ordered it to take down its internet service to its 6,5 million customers.