Militants from President Robert Mugabe’s party Zanu PF have launched raids at boating clubs and tourism lodges on the shores of the capital’s main fishing and leisure area, tour operators said.
A safari lodge about 18 miles west of Harare reopened after being sealed off by more than 200 militants since Friday, said owner Gary Stafford.
The seven-chalet Kuimba Shiri lodge is a popular getaway for locals, foreign visitors, diplomats and United Nations staff.
Militants told witnesses more than 20 clubs and holiday centres were being targeted on the shores and hinterland of Lake Chivero, a dam five miles long and bordered by a wildlife preserve that serves as Harare’s main water supply reservoir.
Incidents began on Friday, coinciding with the launch of a new campaign by tourism and hospitality minister Walter Mzembi who called Zimbabwe “the world of wonders” during a convention in Spain.
After collapsing during a decade of political and economic turmoil, tourist visits have crept upward since 2009 when a coalition government between Mugabe and prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the former opposition leader, abandoned the hyper-inflationary local currency and adopted the US dollar as legal tender.
Tourists had been kept away from the famed Victoria Falls in north-western Zimbabwe and the country’s animal reserves because of recurring political violence and acute shortages of petrol and the most basic goods during the nation’s economic meltdown.
The change to hard currency saw petrol stations and empty store shelves replenished with foodstuffs and luxuries still being imported mainly from neighbouring South Africa, as once self-sufficient local industries battled to resume production. After years of neglect, tourist services, the third largest hard currency earner after agricultural exports and mining a decade ago, were being revamped too, and advertising promotions were mounted at several international travel fairs.
The raids at Lake Chivero follow similar incidents in the mountainous north-eastern trout fishing and hiking district of Nyanga. There, holiday homes were searched by militants and visitors reported being forced to show identification documents by rag-tag groups not in official police or security service uniforms. In some areas, the militants also manned makeshift roadblocks.
Calls for elections this year by Mugabe to end the shaky power sharing deal have heightened political tensions and spurred fresh demands for the implementation of Mugabe’s policy of empowerment that calls for 51% ownership of businesses by blacks.