Beitbridge unrest: 71 people arrested after violent protest

The unrest which started on Friday, was triggered by strict new import regulations.

The Zimbabwean flag. Picture: WikiCommons.

HARARE - Reports from Zimbabwe say at least 71 people have been arrested in Beitbridge over violent demonstrations that rocked the border town.

The unrest which started on Friday, was triggered by strict new import regulations, affecting Zimbabwean cross-border traders.

Locals are saying that police were out in force in the border town on Saturday.

Many Zimbabweans were shocked at the scenes of unrest, as it emerged yesterday that a food outlet in Beitbridge had been looted, traffic lights damaged as well as a warehouse set on fire.

Zimbabwe's security minister, Kembo Mohadi, told state radio he'd heard reports that South African businessmen bussed protesters to the South African side of the border on Friday.

So far the government is showing no signs of wanting to lift the import controls, which are officially meant to promote local industry.

The Zimbabwean government said on 17 June it was suspending imports of products including bottled water, furniture, building materials, steel products, cereals, potato crisps and dairy products, most of which arrive via South Africa.

National police spokeswoman Charity Charamba said protesters in Beitbridge, a border town 600 kilometres south of the capital Harare, had barricaded a road with rocks and burning tyres to prevent vehicles and people from crossing into South Africa.

She said a warehouse owned by tax agency ZIMRA and used to hold illicit goods seized from people crossing the border, had been set alight by the protesters, and that the border post was still closed as at 9 pm local time.

More than 85 percent of working age Zimbabweans have no formal job and most people make a living by buying goods in South Africa to sell in Zimbabwe.

"The extent of the damage is not known. If you have such demonstrations, other criminal elements also join in and it becomes (a) free-for-all," Charamba told Reuters.

Residents and shop owners in Musina, a town on the South African side of the border, had earlier blocked vehicles and people crossing from Zimbabwe, saying Harare should lift the suspension on imports, said Loud Ramakgapola, a senior official with Beitbridge Town Council.

Beitbridge is the busiest road border post in southern Africa and the place where goods flow between South Africa and countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and Malawi as well as Zimbabwe.

ZIMRA said in a statement that Zimbabweans should comply with the import ban and that the police were working to restore order after Friday's "minor" incident.

Additional information by Reuters