Nothing could have prepared Robert Mugabe who has clung to power since the country attained independence in 1980 for the events of Wednesday, 6 July, were citizens collectively embarked on a stay-away dubbed #Shut down Zimbabwe aimed at pressurising government to deal with the economy now on its knees. For the first time in years, citizens spoke out with one voice leaving one wondering whether this is the beginning of the end for Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF cabal.
The historic stay-away which saw the majority of the population participating came about as a result of the combined efforts of various campaigns, #This Flag, # Tajamuka/Sesijikile and Occupy Africa Unity Square among others. These campaigns launched via social media platfoms like Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and YouTube.
“Wednesday is a stay-away day. Please do not go to work, do not take your children to school, do not go anywhere. Stay at home. Wednesday is a stay-away day. We want to shut Zimbabwe down. We are shutting the country down, but there will be no violence. Please do not break your neighbour’s property. Don’t even break the property of the state,” Evan Mawarire, a Zimbabwean activist, said on his Youtube channel.
The This Flag campaign and that of several others mainly played out on social media but on Monday citizens emerged as the real activists as they held another violent protest in the high density surburbs of Epworth and Ruwa.
Scores of Zimbabweans headed to these calls to peacefully demonstrate against the worsening economic woes and the “un-people friendly” policies being introduced by government.
While the majority headed the calls for a peaceful demonstration and stayed indoors, others embarked on street protests. According to the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) an organisation whose core objective is to foster human rights, at least 300 people were arrested. Some of the arrested citizens were mauled by dogs while others were severely beaten up during the protests.
On the 4th of July, the law enforcement agents also arrested 105 citizens in Harare’s poor high density suburbs of Mabvuku and Epworth for protesting against police corruption and the unreasonable USD 200 fine regime, gazetted through statutory instrument 41 of 2016.
In Bindura on the same day, a group of 200 youths wielding placards denouncing president Robert Mugabe who has been in power since the country attained independence in 1980, marched to the offices of Provincial Affairs Minister Martin Dinha demanding the president’s resignation.
The previous week on July 1, about 71 citizens had also been arrested in Beitbridge, a town which houses the country’s largest boarder post that provides passage to South Africa after they had engaged in a demonstration which saw a warehouse at the border post being burnt down. They were protesting against the imposition of Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016 which bans importation of groceries without a licence.
On the 30th of June a formerly a fiery prominent supporter of the 92-year-old Zimbabwean leader asked him to step down immediately, openly insulted him using vulgar language during a press conference. Acie Lumumba was arrested and hauled before a magistrate to answer to charges of insulting the president.
On the 26th a group of activists led by Sten Zvorwadza were arrested after they staged a demonstration against the country’s Vice President Phelekezela Mpoko who has been staying at a hotel for over 15 months. The activists were demanding the eviction of the VP from the hotel saying he had gobbled USD 3 million of tax-payers money yet the government was failing to service its civil service bill.
In the face of sporadic uprisings that have besieged the Southern African nation, the question that begs answer is if this signals a revolution for the country which has had one leader for almost four decades.
One may also wonder if this is the beginning of the end of the Robert Mugabe led Zanu PF regime, largely blamed for bringing the economy on its knees through corruption and policies which have scared investors away.
Before now, citizens basically went about their business of trying to put food and the table and clothes on their backs even at a time when there was literally no food on the supermarket shelves. The resilient citizens also endured a period where inflation rendered their currency valueless owing to poor policies. Of course the Zanu PF government placed the blame squarely on the Western imposed sanctions.
Once regarded as a breadbasket of the continent owing to its agricultural prowess, Zimbabwe became a classic basket case as it has to import food stuffs from neighbouring country following governments Land Reform Programme of 2000 aimed at redressing imbalances of colonialism which saw about 45000 white farmers owning 80 per cent of arable land in the country.
The usually docile citizens who a few years maintained their peace when a significant number were evicted from their home in 2000 during an clean up campaign dubbed operation Murambatsvina on July 6, spoke with a loud and clear voice declared to Mugabe’s government that enough is enough.
The catch phrase “Enough is Enough” has become so popular among citizens at home and in the diaspora expressing their disgruntlement over the state of affairs in the Southern African nation and are now demanding for the presidents head.
London School of Oriental Studies professor Stephen Chan however says that these demonstrations may not be enough to achieve regime change.
“In Zimbabwe, as long as the army and the police are paid, the regime will be unpopular but safe.
The expert on African politics says the protest may continues as funds to service the civil servant bill continue to dwindle with no solution in sight for economic revival.
“The government seriously has no money – but I do not think the protests will force change. They are like the ‘occupy’ movements in the northern hemisphere, frequent, annoying, but not able to achieve their objectives. In Zimbabwe, as long as the army and police are paid, the regime will be unpopular but safe. But Zimbabweans face an increasingly hard time,” Chan said.
In a statement published on the 4th of July, ZPR said it had deployed police to monitor the situations saying those caught engaging in violent activities would face the full wrath of the law.
However, videos of police brutality meted out on demonstrators are spine chilling.
Citizens in the Southern African nation are currently living under harsh conditions where about 80 per cent of the 13 million population is unemployed and live under conditions of extreme poverty as most families live well beyond USD1 a day. The majority of the remaining 20 per cent are civil servants who have not been receiving their salaries on a regular basis.
A significant number of those employed in the private sector have not been able to access their salaries owing to a cash crisis.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, an umbrella body for civil society organisations condemned the violence and called on the State to uphold the rule of law and to respect human rights.
They demanded the immediate payment in full of all civil servants’ salaries and the repealing of “anti-people economic policies, legislation and conduct.
“The state must respect freedom of speech, of the media, assembly and to petition as set out in the national constitution. The government must put an end to corruption, arrest and incarcerate those who have looted the economy empty.”
Civil society leaders also stated that, “ It is criminal for the government to abuse its resources and power to crush ordinary citizens as being observed in the Beitbridge, Epworth, Mabvuku and other areas where peaceful protests are under way.”
“As civic society we condemn in the strongest of terms the use of violence as a response to ordinary citizens peacefully airing their grievances with government.
It is unreasonable for those in top echelons of government to ban imports when they and their families shop outside the country and in fact get even basic services such as primary health care in foreign countries,” reads part of the statement.