Harare – Access to the internet was largely down in Zimbabwe
on Wednesday morning as a national shutdown got under way.
Desperate for news, Zimbabweans resorted to text messaging
as they woke up to find the main government internet service - TelOne ADSL -
was down, and WhatsApp was largely inaccessible.
There had been warnings that the government of the
92-year-old President Robert Mugabe would attempt to shut down social media as
it stared down growing anger from Zimbabweans fed up with cash shortages, a ban
on foreign imports and heavy-handed policing.
WhatsApp is the most used social media platform in Zimbabwe.
At least one privately-owned internet provider was up and running but few in
this cash-strapped nation had access to it.
"Despite being on wifi, my whatsapp is a
graveyard," said one Twitter user.
"They've shut down all the internet access. We cannot
control it because it's national. It's because of what's happening in this
country today," a TelOne worker manning a telephone helpline told News24.
City centres across the country were reported to be quieter
than normal for this shutdown, which came after angry protests in Beitbridge
and Harare in the last few days.
Police had said they would be out in force - and they were.
The privately-owned Newsday reported that there were running battles between
riot police and residents of Mufakose suburb in Harare mid-morning.
The acting labour minister Supa Mandiwanzira told civil
servants on state ZBC radio that if they took part in the strike they would be
considered to have embarked on "an illegal industrial action".
Some schools were closed but some major supermarkets were
open as normal. The sprawling market place of Mbare in Harare, usually a hive
of activity, was largely deserted early in the morning.
Tweeted former education minister David Coltart: "The
regime can try 2 stifle the truth from getting out but people don't need
whatsapp 2 see 4 themselves that #Zimbabwe has been shut down."
Mugabe's Soviet-style politburo is holding a meeting later
in the day.