Tsvangirai’s trek echoes Gandhi’s famous walk

Ray Matikinye

THE arrest on Wednesday morning of Budiriro MP Gilbert Shoko and 20 others for walking to work is reminiscent of Mahatma Gandhi’s famed walk for salt in 1930.



e=”Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe was a six-year old cattle herder in rural Zvimba when the acknowledged icon of passive resistance, Mahatma Gandhi, walked 600km to the sea in protest against a salt tax imposed by the British.


The gruelling exploit was dubbed the Salt Walk and it marked the beginning of the end for Britain’s 200-year Raj in India.


Three weeks ago, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai embarked on his own protest walk, trudging from his home in Strathaven to his offices in central Harare.


Gandhi was protesting against British imperialism, Tsvangirai against Zanu PF’s oppressive rule that has made transport unaffordable for ordinary workers.


Mugabe’s spokesmen want the public to believe that Tsvangirai is grandstanding on behalf of his imperialist masters. But their propaganda, blaming the British for the long-standing economic crisis, does little to convince the poor that the ruling party has answers to the country’s problems.


Escalating prices of basic commodities and a steep decline in the quality of life among Zimbabweans are widely blamed on Mugabe’s economic mismanagement and corruption in high places.


During the early years of Independence 25 years ago, the current price of a bottle of cooking oil could buy a mansion in the capital’s up-market suburbs, the cost of an egg a used car and the fare from working-class suburbs into the city centre was enough to buy a three-bedroomed house. With the amount now charged for a loaf of bread, a Zimbabwean could purchase a modest fleet of taxis in 1980.


Mugabe cannot deny pushing the country towards an economic precipice.

The opposition MP for Budiriro, Gilbert Shoko, and about 20 others were on Wednesday morning arrested for walking to work in solidarity with the struggling people of Zimbabwe, most of whom walk daily to their places of work as a result of the fuel shortage that has afflicted the country.


In support of their opposition leader who started his solidarity walks three weeks ago, many Harare MPs have been walking to work.


Shoko left his Budiriro constituency at 7:00am with about 20 others that had intended to walk into town. But the group was intercepted by the police at Southerton police station and rounded up after it was accused of lying that the country had no fuel.


Gandhi started walking from Sabarmati Ashram with a band of 78 handpicked volunteers destined for a beachhead at Dandi, more than 600 kilometres away in South Gujarat.After a gruelling 24 days when Gandhi and his band of followers reached Dandi, thousands had joined him along the way.


Tsvangirai has yet to attract those sort of numbers given the degree of repression shown to Shoko and his supporters, but a solid band of 50 pedestrians joined him this week.


Gandhi embarked on his protest walk 17 years before India attained Independence.


For Tsvangirai, Independence was achieved 25 years ago but still people are arrested for walking to work. The opposition leader sees the need to protest as lifestyles of the ordinary people have deteriorated.


The opposition MP for Mufakose, Paurina Mpariwa, last week walked more than 15 kilometres from her constituency to town “in solidarity with people who are facing transport problems as a result of the fuel shortage gripping the country”.


Mpariwa took more than four hours to get to town, setting the tone for a growing number of MDC legislators who have vowed to walk from their homes to town in solidarity with hard-pressed workers.


“People cannot find transport and when they do they are unable to use public transport owing to the high fares charged,” Mpariwa said.


Many have resorted to using the commuter trains. The trains, which government dubbed “Freedom Trains” when they were introduced, have been discontinued in some suburbs for lack of diesel.


“If it takes four hours to get into town, you can imagine the loss to industry and commerce in terms of production when workers get to work tired,” Mpariwa said.


Gandhi took a handful of salt from the sea as a symbolic action and he asked everybody to do the same. When protesters decided to march on salt factories and take salt from there, British soldiers responded with force.


This week, as fuel trickled into Zimbabwe the chaos at fuel service stations reflected popular desperation with policies that have sabotaged forex earnings.


Observers link the fuel deliveries to the impending senate election scheduled for November. Government has scoffed at the opposition leader’s symbolic gesture.


“Basically it was a publicity stunt. He walked a short distance for photographs before boarding his red fuel-guzzling truck,” Information and Publicity deputy minister Bright Matonga said in barbed comments about Tsvangirai’s trek. In fact the vehicle remained parked at Tsvangirai’s home.


Journalists who witnessed Tsvangirai walk all the way to his offices have marvelled at Matonga’s ignorance because as a minister he is cushioned from ordinary people’s daily toils.


The Salt Walk is acknowledged as an event that shook the British Empire to its core. Perhaps Tsvangirai is yet to accept that imperialists showed a greater responsiveness to Gandhi than he can ever hope for from his own government.