Protests in Zimbabwe continue despite government ban

by Donald Mukota

Protestors comprising of the elderly, young adults men and women, some of them with babies strapped on their backs and the youth gather in the Africa Unity Square (also known as the Dzamara Square). Itai Dzamara disappeared more than one and half years ago after he launched a one-man demonstration demanding accountability and the resignation of Mugabe.

Despite heavy anti-riot police presence at the square protestors continue to arrive in numbers. Party affiliation, religion, race, and background has been cast aside. The Zimbabwe flag and the desire to see a better Zimbabwe is the common denominator among these people. The tension between the anti-riot police and the protestors is palatable as protestors sing liberation war songs and wave placards. Anti-riot police officers keep an eye on the protesters and are on the lookout for those leading the demonstration.

Anti-Riot Police patrols have become common in the CBD by Donald Mukota.

Anti-Riot Police patrols have become common in Harare.                                                                                Courtesy: Donald Mukota

Ida, a forty-year-old widow, has been a street vendor for 5 years following the closure of the factory where she had worked for 23 years. With no terminal benefits or a severance package, and no chances of getting another job in sight, Ida had to come up with a plan to eke out a living for her seven dependents – three children and four grandchildren. The solution came in the form of selling vegetables on the pavements of Harare’s Central Business District.

In addition to the strain of waking up at dawn every day of the week, she has to cover 25 km to get to the Mbare market. She then has to make the return journey to the CBD to arrange her wares while also keeping an eye out for the Municipal Police, who would confiscate her goods.

When asked why she is joining the protests, and if she is not afraid of being arrested and beaten, anger is written all over her face. She goes quiet for what looks like an eternity. After I repeat the question not only is there anger in her face but there are tears in her eyes as well. It is clear she is angry and in pain.

Ida was born at the dawn of Zimbabwe’s independence. Like most of her generation, she was a beneficiary of the ‘free primary education for all’ adopted by the Government in 1980.

“We had aspirations and looked forward to brighter futures and better lives than our parents’,” she says.”And back then everything was simple and affordable, no one starved, no one was turned away from a clinic or hospital, no one was barred from attending school for non-payment of fees, it was unheard of for banks to run out of cash.”

Ida’s list is long but the one that is closest to her heart is the death of her husband due to HIV/AIDS. “If only my husband had accessed Anti-retroviral drugs when he needed them…” Ida chokes on her words and does not finish her statement but the look on her face sums it up. She blames it all on a government that she says has allowed the country’s health service delivery system to collapse.

According to Ida, the Zanu PF led government has failed her dismally. She is convinced that as long as president Mugabe and his men are allowed to remain in power, there is no end in sight for the suffering and poverty facing Zimbabwe’s present and future generations. The interview is cut short as she gets up to join some protesters in song and dance, she walks with her head high and there is unexplained confidence in her gait as if to dare the anti-riot police officers who are keeping a close eye on the Square.

In its 36 years of independence Zimbabwe has undertaken several economic reform programmes which have had debilitating effects on the majority of the population. In October 1990, the Zimbabwe government succumbed to Western donor pressure and grudgingly agreed to implement a five-year Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) as a response to the economic crisis which had been afflicting the country since the 1980s.

The measures introduced were: Removal of price controls; Removal of wage controls; Reduction of government expenditure; A 40 per cent devaluation of the Zimbabwean dollar; Removal of subsidies on basic consumer goods; Liberalizing the foreign currency allocation system; Removal of protection of non-productive import substituting industries and increased profit remittance abroad; and a radical restructuring of the various parastatals and other public enterprises.

Overseeing and implementing ESAP was no walk in the park, the government admitted the programme had failed to achieve the desired results and it was abandoned midway.

In 1998, the Zimbabwe government launched the second stage of its economic structural adjustment programme, the Zimbabwe Programme for Economic and Social Transformation (ZIMPREST). ZIMPREST outlined macroeconomic reforms through to the year 2000.

The plan envisaged a real annual GDP growth of 6 per cent until 2000 and a creation of 44,000 new jobs per year. To achieve such targets, savings and investments were expected to reach at least 23 percent of the GDP and the budget deficit reduced to less than 5 percent. Besides seeking to advance the unfinished work of ESAP, ZIMPREST also added socio-political goals such as improvements in the quality of democratic institutions; the pursuit of good governance; and the elimination of corruption. Thus, political conditions were added to ZIMPREST.

In 2013 the government launched the Zimbabwe Agenda for Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim-Asset) economic blueprint which is a results-based management economic blueprint with the aim of increasing and improving the quality of government expenditure, increasing productivity and competitiveness and improving the business environment as a whole. The success or failure of this programme can only be judged following its full implementation, something that is not sitting well with the ordinary man on the street who is more concerned with ‘bread and butter’ issues.

Zimbabwe’s economic decline has been exacerbated by the breakdown in the rule of law, as demonstrated by the ZANU-PF militants’ occupation of white-owned commercial farms, the granting of four billion dollars to the former combatants in the form of gratuities and the costly military intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and lately, massive corruption in both private and public sectors.

Mark, unlike Ida, is only 22 years old and is not about to give up on life. He is a university drop out, forced to become a tout because his father, a former messenger at one of the many corporations that had to downsize was retrenched. Mark hopes with the stepping down and removal of Mugabe and ZANU-PF from government respectively, he can still go back to university and complete his degree, live a comfortable life and be able to look after his parents who have been relegated to peasantry in rural Zimbabwe, where food aid is distributed on party lines.

“We grew up being told that Zimbabweans are a docile people, we are not docile. We are peace loving but if you take us for granted, you only have yourself to blame and that is exactly what Mugabe and his cronies did. That is the cardinal sin they committed, we are not going to stop until we achieve change in this country – change that is people centred,” he opines.

Also at the protest is an elderly man, Sekuru Thomson, who says “hapana kusiri kufa, kugara kumba kana kuurayiwa pano zvakafanana”, (staying at home or dying here in the streets is the same). Sekuru echoes Ida, Mark, and many other Zimbabwean’s sentiments, he sums it up by saying “Mugabe must go!”

Ida, Mark and the elderly Sekuru Thomson are part of the thousands of protesters from Harare who have on this day heeded the call by the National Electoral Reform Agenda (NERA) to take to the streets and protest against Mugabe and ZANU-PF. Some of the protesters have come from suburbs 20 – 30 kilometres away from Harare.

According to a statement issued by NERA, similar protests had been organised to take place around the country to push for electoral reforms before the 2018 General Elections and to voice citizen’s anger at the continued misrule by the ZANU- PF government which has become characterised by corruption, nepotism, and cronyism.

While the majority of Zimbabweans are in agree that the country is in a crisis, not everyone is in agrees on the source of the crisis. There are those who believe that Mugabe is a victim of Western propaganda and people calling for his resignation are the real enemies. Some ZANU PF functionaries have taken it upon themselves to stop these ‘enemies’ in their tracks.

According to an update on Human Rights Violations by Heal Zimbabwe, On 17 September 2016, ZANU-PF youth destroyed window panes at the house of Movement for Democratic Change member, William Nyambi accusing him of mobilising people to participate in the NERA demonstration that took place in Chinhoyi town centre, some 60 km from Harare.

The youth also targeted the house of Zimbabwe People First (ZimPF) Interim Chairman, Damson Mapfumo where they also broke windows and asbestos sheets. At the time of the attacks, Nyambi and Mapfumo had fled their homes after they received tip-offs from locals in the area that they were being targeted. The ZANU-PF youths who attacked the houses accused the two of mobilising community members to participate in the NERA demonstration. The matter was reported at Chemagamba police station but no arrests have been made to date.

In a related incident, organisers of the NERA demonstration in Uzumba ward 6 were denied permission by the police to demonstrate at Mutawatawa Growth point, but ZANU-PF youth were, on 17 September 2016, allowed to camp at the venue where the demonstration was supposed to take place. They started singing, sloganeering and openly told people who had come for the demonstration that they were going to assault anyone who would participate in the demonstration.

Most opposition supporters in the area who occupy leadership posts have since fled the area and sought refuge in nearby districts.

Opposition leaders say Mugabe is not only using his party members to intimidate and hopefully stop the protests but in an attempt to thwart further protests, police in Zimbabwe on the 13th of September announced a new ban on all demonstrations in and around Harare.

The order came hours after a coalition of opposition parties said they would stage mass rallies across the country on the coming Saturday to push for reform before elections due in 2018.

Anti-government campaigners vowed to defy the order and also appeal to the courts. “These are the last kicks of a dying regime and we expected no better from them,” Douglas Mwonzora, spokesman for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition party, said. “They have no respect for the law but we are not going to surrender our constitutional right. We are going back to the courts to challenge this illegal ban.”

An earlier protest ban in Harare was overturned by the courts despite President Mugabe’s directive that specified a crackdown on dissent, blasting judges for what he called “reckless” rulings. In a notice in the state-run Herald newspaper, Harare police chief Newbert Saunyama said a ban would be imposed on the “holding of public demonstrations” for one month starting on Friday the 16th of September 2016.

The Ministry of Justice and Parliamentary Affairs has issued a statement that makes the selling or draping of the Zimbabwe flag an offence. The offence according to the communiqué attracts a fine of not more than $200, a heavy fine considering that most Zimbabweans are surviving on less than a dollar a day. Hard life Mudzingwa, the spokesman for the pressure group Tajamuka (We are agitated), told the media: “We will not heed this unconstitutional declaration by the police.”

Government warning on the use of the flag by Thelma Chikwanha

Government warning on the use of the flag.

Government stands accused of deploying the dreaded Military Police (Red Berets) into densely populated suburbs and imposing curfews. In Kuwadzana and Dzivaresekwa they are accused of raiding nightclubs and beating up patrons and forcing them to retire early. According to eyewitnesses, the soldiers accused patrons of “staying up late and planning on toppling a constitutionally elected government.”

The levels of “panic and desperation are just but alarming,” lamented one of the victims of the raids. Efforts to get a comment from the Army Headquarters were futile as I was transferred from one office to the other without clarification on the matter.

 

Images: Donald Mukota

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