Nothing short of major political and economic reforms will halt the deepening of the crisis in Zimbabwe, say commentators.
“There is no capacity to address the crisis,” said Ibbo Mandaza, head of think-tank Southern Africa Political and Economic Series.
“It will continue like this until the end comes,” he said at the weekend.
A coup or some other form of political intervention was becoming “increasingly likely”, said Robert Besseling, head of EXX Africa risk intelligence agency.
“Security forces have reacted heavy-handedly to protests, including beating and arbitrarily detaining activists,” said Besseling.
After a week of turmoil, with protests in Harare and Bulawayo, it seems that opposition to President Robert Mugabe is building towards boiling point.
Public shows of dissent have been rare during Mugabe’s almost 30-year-long rule but have erupted frequently in recent months as the battered economy has ground to a virtual halt.
Banks have run short of cash, government workers’ salaries have been delayed and many basic imports have been banned at a time when the country is enduring a severe drought that has left millions hungry.
With the 92-year-old president’s health increasingly uncertain and the ruling Zanu-PF party riven by a succession battle, Zimbabwe could be heading for a long-awaited new chapter.
“People are beginning to ask who is the source of their problems. The anger is mounting,” said Rushweat Mukundu, a political analyst with the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, in Harare.
“The spontaneous acts we’re seeing now might turn into mass uprisings.”
The riots revealed the long-bubbling frustration normally kept under strict control by Mugabe’s ruthless security forces in a country in which 90% of the population is not in formal employment.
“Civil servants who were loyal to the government because they were getting salaries or using state infrastructure to engage in petty corruption are now among the discontented,” said Mukundu.
Zimbabwe, which abandoned its own currency in favour of the US dollar in 2009 to end hyperinflation, spends more than 80% of its revenue on state workers’ wages and is rated among the most corrupt nations worldwide.