Zvakwana gears up underground protests

THEY are best known for the audacity of their campaigns: protest messages stamped on condom packets, banknotes and pithy postcards to President Robert Mugabe — but who they are is less apparent.



Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>An underground group of anti-government activists, Zvakwana-Sokwanele — “Enough!” in Zimbabwe’s two main languages, Shona and Ndebele — does not operate out of offices with a nameplate on the door. Its only regular presence is a website in cyberspace, or the graffiti-splashed billboards and road signs exhorting people — in the words of Bob Marley — to “Get up, stand up”.


Zvakwana-Sokwanele, formed after Mugabe’s raw-knuckle 2002 presidential election victory, says its aim is to “achieve democracy” through non-violence. The government, on the other hand, has dismissed the group as a “Western front” bent on destabilising the country.


The authorities were particularly incensed when “mischievous political slogans” appeared on banknotes at the beginning of the year. The government said defacing the currency was a crime, and the culprits would face “the full wrath of the law”.


Zvakwana-Sokwanele contends that the strict laws governing public assembly and free speech mean that it must use unorthodox methods to get its pro-democracy message across.


Its new campaign is a protest aimed squarely at what the group regards as an already stolen legislative poll, due to be held on March 31. The activists are urging voters to spoil their ballots by choosing “none of the above”, rather than selecting any of the contesting candidates.


“By spoiling your ballot you will not legitimise an illegitimate election. This is an active way of saying the electoral process is cockeyed,” the group announced on its website.


Leonard Tsunga, chairman of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said Zvakwana-Sokwanele’s campaign was a militant response to the alleged lack of free speech. He stressed the atmosphere in Zimbabwe was so charged it prevented genuine debate and the opposition’s access to the public.


“It is criminal to criticise the government in Zimbabwe — calling for action against government is a ‘capital offence’, bordering on treason. In that atmosphere, the only alternative is to opt for underground campaigns,” said Tsunga.


A member of Zvakwana-Sokwanele told Irin that, with anti-government papers closed and their journalists hounded, spray cans and graffiti were the only effective way left to register public protest.


“Our action brigades are in every little town and city, armed with sprays to put up our messages wherever the public can see them. We are giving the public a voice and regular updates on the national crisis,” she said.


Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena described the protest group as an illegal organisation bent on inciting the public against the government.


“They are as illegal as their activities. The police are still looking for the people behind the organisation. They have to account for all the offences they have committed in the last three years — defacing walls and banknotes is a criminal offence.” — Irin.

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