Zimbabwe’s minister for information, communication technology, and courier services, Supa Mandiwanzira, denied that the service was blocked. According to the African News Agency, he said his government instead was actually trying to protect services like WhatsApp against pressure from mobile operators, which own the digital pipes through which messaging apps send communications.

Meanwhile, a public notice distributed on social media from the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) warned that “…anyone generating, passing on or sharing such abusive and subversive materials which are tantamount to criminal behaviour, will be disconnected and the law will take it’s course…perpetrators can easily be identified.”

Scenes from Monday’s riots.
Scenes from Monday’s riots.
Image: REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Despite threats, hundreds of arrests and a heavy police presence, the Zimbabwean government has been unable to contain protest action. On Monday, taxi drivers rioted against ubiquitous police roadblocks they say are used to extort them. Teachers, doctors, nurses and other civil servants have refused to work after their salaries were delayed again.

The protests and attempted crackdowns recall the problems of a decade earlier. From 2000 to 2008, Zimbabwe experienced the sharpest GDP contraction in history for a peacetime economy, according to the World Bank. At its worst, Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation was so bad that the central bank could not afford the money on which it printed Zimbabwean trillion-dollar notes.

After adopting a new constitution in 2013, the country’s economy began to recover. But recent slow growth, worsened by a regional drought, has seen the government resort to desperate measures like printing its own version of the US dollar. Zimbabwe looks to be once again at a tipping point.

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