language: JA”>LAST week’s nationwide five-day mass action confirmed that President Robert Mugabe’s government has effectively lost the battle for the hearts and minds of Zimbabweans and is now relying on brute coercion to maintain its rule.
Despite applying saturation propaganda, ominous threats and legal blockages to prevent the protests, Mugabe’s regime still failed to prevent the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) from organising rolling mass action which paralysed the country for five consecutive days.
Analysts say despite Mugabe’s claims that it was a flop, the mass action provided the clearest evidence yet that Zimbabwe now practically has a condominium leadership: one that commands the forces of repression and the other that controls the popular will of the people.
In his remarks in an interview with the South African Broadcasting Corporation last weekend, Mugabe insisted that the mass action was a flop because it was designed to oust him from power but failed.
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai said Mugabe’s reaction revealed panic in official circles. “It is a matter of public record that Zimbabweans from all walks of life overwhelmingly responded to the first stage of our final phase of democratic resistance,” he said.
“The call by the MDC for a national shutdown and mass action represents a national effort to challenge an unpopular regime. This was the first dose of action in the final phase of the people’s collective push against this regime under our code, the Final Push.”
Tsvangirai said it was not surprising that Mugabe’s regime reacted with further repression. “True to form, the regime responded with the predictable brute force and mass reprisals. But, as expected, this failed to stop the people from demonstrating their unflinching support for the MDC,” he said.
Tsvangirai said while Mugabe pretended to be unfazed by the mass action, “he was busy marshalling his forces of repression against the sovereign will of the people”.
However, despite the brutalities inflicted upon them, the people’s spirit of resistance was not broken, he said.
“Throughout the world the struggle against tyranny and the retrieval of stolen freedom and liberty has never been a single event, but a traumatic process of relentless sacrifice and utmost dedication.”
In a further exhibition of defiance, Tsvangirai warned of further measures against Mugabe soon.
“Consequently, the peaceful mass action that we embarked upon is the beginning of new multifaceted phase towards a permanent resolution of the crisis.
“From now onwards we will embark on rolling mass action at strategic times of our choice and without any warning to the dictatorship. Whereas in the past our mass action concentrated on stayaways, we have now entered a qualitatively different phase where we have added peaceful marches to confront the dictator on the streets of every city and every town.”
Tsvangirai said contrary to Mugabe’s claims that he had prevailed, “the dictator is now cornered and reduced to using the hit and run tactics of a bandit against defenceless people.
“Mugabe has now been exposed as a violent and illegitimate dictator with absolutely no pretence to any semblance of civil mass support,” he said.
“The current phase of the people’s mass action had demonstrated to Mugabe where his power lies. He is now under no illusion about this. His power now lies completely in the forces of repression supervised by a coterie of his bootlickers.”
While affecting to regret using teargas to disperse peaceful demonstrators, Mugabe justified his repression on the pretext of maintaining law and order.
Analysts say if Mugabe did prevail over the MDC through the use of excessive force, then he only managed to score a Pyrrhic victory — a triumph which is as costly as defeat.
But analysts say it was not even that because the mass action managed to shut down the whole economy for a week while Mugabe held sway in the streets, courts and media where he tenaciously fought the protests with batons, whips, teargas, court orders, and propaganda.
Although government put on a brave face and claimed it was business as usual notwithstanding that businesses were closed, it was clear the economy had ground to a halt. The only offices which opened consistently for the whole week were those of government that produce nothing of value.
After propaganda had failed to prevent the mass action, Mugabe unleashed the police and the army — the building blocks of his power base — to avoid a direct challenge to his rule.
It appears government is now resolved to use the intelligence agency, police, army, prisons — which at times operate like concentration camps — and the ruling party’s militia squads to defend itself. Critics say this is largely because people have withdrawn en masse their consent to Mugabe’s rule due to his unmitigated leadership failures. But by deploying the army to suppress public protests, he all but confirmed that his legitimacy was shrinking despite official claims to the contrary.
Analysts said the protests further showed that Mugabe — now viewed as a prisoner of events — desperately lashing out at his opponents — is clinging to power by his fingernails.
Political analyst Brian Raftopoulos said the mass action revealed the ugly face of an increasingly brutal regime and official fear of demonstrations.
“The mass action highlighted and proved that this government is illegitimate,” he said. “That is why it is now increasingly relying on force to remain in power. Its determination to use coercion to keep itself in control shows that it is afraid of its own people.”
Raftopoulos said the mass action also indicated that despite its failure to mobilise a critical mass of people to confront the regime in the streets, the MDC “actually has popular support on the ground”.
MDC spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi said the lashing out by government and the subsequent deployment of security forces was an admission that Zimbabwe has become a quasi-military regime.
He said the move was a “massive defeat for government and victory for democracy”. Although it had overwhelming support, MDC failed to bring large numbers of people onto the streets.
Observers said this was largely because the party had not put in place a strategy based on a realistic assessment of the situation and tactics that could match the demands of the circumstances.
The opposition had also not been able to identify and exploit weaknesses of the regime. Analysts say despite its semblance of strength, government is riddled with fundamental — some even say fatal — flaws, which include bureaucratic and personal rivalries and institutional inefficiencies.
This had made the system less effective and more vulnerable to changing conditions and organised resistance. But the MDC has not been able to capitalise on this and deepening popular disaffection caused by the prevailing economic crisis. Instead, it appears to be blowing with the wind and relying on an anticipated spontaneous uprising. Unless the MDC puts in place a realistic strategy on mass action, it will continue to appear opportunistic and too inept to organise a coherent campaign of resistance against an increasingly insecure regime.