HARARE – Internet services were partially restored for Zimbabweans on Wednesday afternoon, the final day of a three-day job stay-away called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).
Econet Wireless, the country’s biggest mobile phone company with over 6,5 million subscribers, told its customers in a late-night SMS on Wednesday that the government had modified the blackout, but directed internet service providers to keep social media sites blocked.
The message said: “Dear valued customer. Please be advised that the internet is back online under a directive that Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Twitter will remain closed until further notice. Any inconvenience is sincerely regretted.”
Zimbabweans are using Virtual Private Networks (VPN) to circumvent the social media restrictions.
The government took down access to the internet after violent riots on Monday in response to shock fuel price increases announced by President Emmerson Mnangagwa. The move appeared aimed at disrupting protesters’ ability to coordinate their actions, or alert each other to the movement of security forces who launched a brutal door-to-door clampdown on suspected protesters during the blackout.
The United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee has condemned the crackdown by security forces, which rights groups say has led to deaths. Senators Cory Booker and Chris Coons, in a joint statement, called on Mnangagwa to lift the internet restrictions.
“Such abrogations of constitutional and basic legal rights are not what the people of Zimbabwe were promised under President Mnangagwa. Instead, the government should work to meet the basic economic and social needs of its people,” Coons and Booker said in a joint statement.
The blackout spawned chaos, with Zimbabweans – who are forced to use electronic transactions due to lack of cash in banks – unable to access basic services like paying electricity bills and buying medicines with their bank cards.
Over the weekend, Mnangagwa announced in a televised address that Zimbabwe’s fuel prices would double: from $1.24 to $3.31 per litre of petrol and from $1.36 to $3.11 for diesel.
The announcement made Zimbabwe’s fuel arguably the most expensive in the world, triggering fury from workers’ unions who said the price increases – even as their salaries stagnated – would drive up prices of goods and services across the economy, reducing their buying power.