Hundreds of Zimbabweans from the country’s 10 provinces participated on Friday in an anti-sanctions march, a day the government declared a national holiday.
While the government claimed the event to be a success, marchers could not fill the 60,000-person national stadium in the capital Harare.
Marchers carried placards that read, "Sanctions must go now" and "Sanctions are a crime against humanity".
Government spokesman Nick Mangwana said: "The SADC [Southern African Development Community] made this day a yearly event as long as a member state is under sanctions." He added that the 16-member regional economic cooperation community wanted to raise global awareness on the sanctions.
Tracy Mandizha, a 26-year-old supporter of the Zimbabwe Africa National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), from Masvingo, said: "Sanctions are hurting us; we are hungry in the villages because of the sanctions placed on our country."
The U.K. ambassador to Zimbabwe, Melanie Robinson, downplayed the Zimbabwean government’s anti-sanctions march.
"EU’s restrictive measures are ONLY on the Mugabes and the Zimbabwe Defense Industries. The UK stands with Zimbabweans in the fight against corruption and rights abuses. That’s where the government should focus its efforts," Robinson said on Twitter.
Addressing the anti-sanction marchers at the National Sports Stadium, President Emmerson Mnangagwa claimed the sanctions were being gradually revoked.
"We have opened up both the economic and political space," Mnangagwa said, adding "The EU has started to gradually remove the sanctions they had imposed."
In a recent interview, U.S. ambassador Brian Nichols accused Harare of wasting energy on fighting less impactful sanctions instead of rife corruption in the country.
"Blaming sanctions is a convenient scapegoat to distract the public from the real reasons behind Zimbabwe’s economic challenges -- corruption, economic mismanagement, and failure to respect human rights and uphold the rule of law," Nichols said.
Sitting under the scorching sun, some marchers, such as Dexter Magure from Shurugwi, complained he was bused against his will.
"I had my own things to do until local Zanu-PF leaders forced everyone in my area to board the bus to Harare for the anti-sanctions march; this won’t bring money for me because I will still go back home to face my problems," Magure told Anadolu Agency.
Referring to the poor turnout, opposition Movement for Democratic Change deputy spokesman Luke Tamborinyoka said: "Zimbabweans have slapped Mnangagwa with full sanctions; the National Sports Stadium is empty, emptier than the echoing UN auditorium in New York which he recently addressed."
Even as government supporters and officials insist sanctions have done more damage on the country's economy than corruption, critics remain unconvinced.
"Sanctions have been with us for years now and even during the period of 2008-2013, but people could still buy bread for 0.90c, board local transport in towns for 0.50c; we had no fuel queues nor power outages like what is happening now," Sakhile Mulauzi, a government critic, told Anadolu Agency.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.