THE increasing frequency of incidences of violence since the beginning of the year presents a worrying scenario which reflects growing frustration and desperation among restless Zimbabweans due to mounting economic and social challenges the country is going through.
Though the violent events have been unrelated and spaced out — ranging from the attacks on police officers and journalists in Harare’s Budiriro suburb in May by an apostolic sect, Johane Masowe yeChishanu, to the recent violence at Chingwizi camp in Masvingo province where villagers set alight two police vehicles in protest against plans to relocate a clinic in the holding camp.
Even though this does not immediately suggest popular unrest, the reality is there is simmering public discontent over socio-economic problems fuelled by unemployment and poverty. Poor service delivery is also making the population agitated.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions is currently plotting mass demonstrations countrywide and according to its president, George Nkiwane, this is because of “government’s heartless approach towards welfare issues that has left workers with no option, but to consider nationwide mass action”.
“We have been to Masvingo, Mutare and now Bulawayo and remarkably all we are getting is the same. People are saying let us resort to street protests,” Nkiwane told a local daily this week. “We cannot continue to have a government that churns out policies that are inhibitive of investment at the expense of millions of suffering Zimbabweans. We need policies that benefit our people.”
Simmering discontent was also demonstrated by youths from the opposition MDC-T who, on June 16, defied police directive barring them from holding a procession from Town House to Harare Gardens in protest over increasing unemployment as part of commemorations to mark the Day of the African Child.
The 150 militant youths, who gathered at Town House, threatened to retaliate if the riot police, numbering over 20, continued to block their “democratic right”.
Police were also on high alert when reports spread on social media that MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai was going to address a rally at the party headquarters at Harvest House on his return from his United Kingdom trip last month. Fearing an outbreak of violence, trucks with riot police camped along Nelson Mandela Avenue, between Julius Nyerere Avenue and First Street.
A fortnight ago, disgruntled workers of the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) were prevented from taking to the streets by the police and petitioned the courts challenging the order. The High Court has since ruled that the police have no right to bar demonstrations by trade unions.
NRZ employees have not been paid their wages for the past 10 months. The workers are owed US$55 million in salary arrears.
Last week in Harare, more than 300 residents gathered at Town House where they staged a peaceful demonstration demanding the city fathers to make sure all city suburbs had water supplies.
The residents, all members of the Combined Residents’ Association, brought with them empty buckets to harvest water from the council head office and launched the “All We Want is Water” campaign. They also demanded that council speeds up the process of ensuring potable water is availed to millions of desperate Harare residents who have gone for years without supplies of the precious liquid.
As anger mounts due to economic hardships facing most Zimbabweans, no one knows where these violent protests will end up or what they could lead to as the population becomes more desperate with no respite from the challenges that confront them.
According to political and social commentator Dumisani Nkomo, “people are frustrated, but then they do not have the platforms to express their discontent on political issues. The government is failing to manage the economic depression and this could lead to a more restive populace. It remains to be seen whether this will result in popular uprising or just a manifestation of protest politics.”
This is certainly a measured and carefully-worded assessment of the situation, but for some ordinary people such as Miriam Zhou of Chingwizi camp, there were no such linguistic subtlety and restraint as she predicted far worse violent confrontations to come.
Zhou, the widowed mother of six who says fought Zimbabwe’s 1970s war of liberation, warned of impending chaos at the camp because government was starving them and reneging on its promises to compensate and move them to five-hectare plots of land.
“It seems our government is behaving like the settler colonial government. Ndiwo matangiro akaita Chimurenga awa (This is how the liberation war started),” said Zhou and her utterances have since been borne out by the violence that engulfed the camp almost two weeks ago when mainly women and children torched two police cars and destroyed the district administrator’s temporary office. This was in protest over plans to close the makeshift clinic at the camp.
From these few incidents, are Zimbabweans, who are generally considered to be docile, becoming more militant?
According to another political analyst Godwin Phiri: “Zimbabwe is going through serious stress and people are frustrated by the economy which is comatose. Where people are grouped together in sufficient numbers, it is very easy for them to organise and act as we have seen in the different incidents that have rocked different parts of the country.”
Indeed, people are increasingly growing frustrated with the desperate economic conditions where unemployment levels have surpassed the official 85% and thousands of workers are being retrenched on a daily basis.
As many as 400 workers are being retrenched on a weekly basis as companies continue to close, while service delivery has deteriorated.
While these are serious challenges enough to breed anger and resentment, the unrest which appears to be on the increase is perhaps more a reflection of perceptions of the apparent insensitivity of government to the people’s plight.
What makes it worse and fuels this anger is the government’s warped sense of priorities.
For one, the Ministry of Finance last month successfully negotiated a US$1,4 million loan to purchase luxury Mercedes-Benz vehicles demonstrating what seems to be its penchant for luxury and profligacy amid general poverty of its citizenry. This was over and above the purchases made by government a few months ago when it spent close to US$20 million on luxury cars, including Mercedes-Benz and SUVs for 26 cabinet ministers, 13 ministers of state and 24 deputies.
The government also spent US$15 million on luxury cars for its 355 legislators in April. Earlier in February, Mercedes-Benz E350 sedans, Toyota Land Cruisers and Range Rover Sport vehicles were bought for provincial ministers.
Even the civil servants, who no longer have fixed pay dates, are also being affected by these bad decisions taken at the expense of service delivery, which continues to deteriorate by each month.
Government has predicated recovery on its economic blueprint dubbed ZimAsset, which requires about US$27 billion to fully implement between 2013 and 2018, but so far it has failed to mobilise the required funds.
This is despite Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa making numerous trips to China and even pleading with Western institutions to avail funding.
President Robert Mugabe is scheduled to visit China this month, but it remains to be seen whether he will get the necessary funding.
As the economy falters, discontent has gripped the country, with the 15% employed unsure of their future as more companies face closure.
Even the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority said pointed out that government is struggling to raise money to fund government operations, as it is collecting just enough to pay salaries for the 236 000 civil servants, which might lead to a shut-down if the economic situation does not improve in the second half of this year.
Violence incidents that have broken out may yet be sporadic and unco-ordinated, but the growing militancy could be a harbinger for worse things to come should the government continue fiddling while the economy burns.