THE mood in the capital city on the morning of April 14 was tense as thousands of people heeded the call by the MDC-T to demonstrate against continued misrule and a culture of impunity by Zanu PF.
By Elias Mambo
The capital city was a sea of red as Zimbabweans, young and old, braved the threatening police, eager to show their disgust at President Robert Mugabe’s policy failure that has turned many into vendors and near-destitutes.
The large anti-government protest march led by MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai has shown that the usually docile Zimbabweans are gradually losing patience with the government because of the plethora of problems they are facing.
Reminiscent of the food riots and labour-backed demonstrations of the late 1990s because of the numbers involved, except that there were no running battles with the police, the protests carried a strong message to the government.
The message was that the government should attend to the multi-faceted but man-made problems affecting the economy, characterised by a massive liquidity crunch, which has resulted in massive company closures and retrenchments.
For some time Zimbabwe has been experiencing low turnouts each time political parties and organisations such as the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions called for demonstrations, with the so-called final push organised by the MDC-T in 2003, which was a monumental failure, being an example.
But economic problems, like in the late 1990s, seem to have awakened Zimbabweans, who were rallied by Tsvangirai to protest against the deteriorating standards of living, giving credence to Aristotle, the Greek critic and philosopher’s assertion that “poverty is the parent of revolution”.
While the demonstration was a far cry in terms of the impact and magnitude when compared to the Arab Spring revolution which started in December 2010, when a young Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire after he was banned from selling fruit to earn a living, resulting in demonstrations which led to the fall of governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, the impact was felt in the corridors of power. It was not a surprise to hear the Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces General Constantine Chiwenga on Monday declaring that state security agents were on high alert.
The disappointment in the majority of Zimbabweans because of government’s misrule has resulted in increased demonstrations, including lone protests.
The mood engulfing the country was epitomised by a woman, who could be in her fifties, protesting on Independence Day. The woman followed President Robert Mugabe at the National Sports Stadium demanding her share of the diamond revenue, which Mugabe said in March could not be accounted for.
She was eventually stopped by Mugabe’s security team, who offered her food which she declined saying she would rather have maize to feed on for days to follow. In an interview to mark his 92nd birthday, Mugabe revealed only US$2 billion out of US$15 billion worth of diamonds could be accounted for.
One-man demonstrations against Mugabe have of late become common. Mugabe was embarrassed in Victoria Falls when a clergyman demonstrated against his misrule at the Zanu PF conference in December last year.
Itai Dzamara, a journalist-cum-politician, also launched a series of demonstrations against the Mugabe regime.
Dzamara was allegedly abducted in March last year. His brother, Patson, protested in front of Mugabe at the Independence celebrations demanding to know Itai’s whereabouts.
Last week’s, MDC-T protestors waved placards questioning the government over the missing diamond revenue.
The protestors also demanded that government unveils the 2,2 million jobs promised by Zanu PF in its 2013 election manifesto, which informed the government’s ambitious economic blueprint ZimAsset.
Demonstrators also wanted to know Dzamara’s whereabouts, while also calling on Mugabe to step down.
Some of the placards read “old clueless Mugabe must go”, “Basa rangu riripi (where is my job)”, “Zvakwana, Enough, Sokwanela, Taneta” and “Why beat up our war veterans?”.
A rejuvenated Tsvangirai promised more demonstrations pledging to hold protests in all of the country’s major towns and cities .
“This is the time for President Robert Mugabe to listen to the voice of the people,” Tsvangirai said. “We are going to hold such demonstrations in all the cities and towns countrywide as we fight for our rights. We are not afraid to lead in the struggle.”
Political analyst and Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director Pedzisai Ruhanya said last week’s demonstration showed that people are now united against poverty and joblessness.
“This is not about regime change agenda, but politics of the stomach. People have been pushed to the limit with poverty. The people who gathered are vendors, a different class of vendors because they are all holders of degrees but unemployed,” Ruhanya said.
He also said Tsvangirai is reconnecting with the masses who have suffered for long and can no longer just sit and relax as if it is business as usual.
Another analyst, Rashweat Mukundu said the demonstration shows the people are angry with the government.
“There is no doubt that there is anger on the state of the economy and poor service delivery, but it will take more than a few thousands to confront the regime. The fact that the demonstration was allowed to happen, shows that it is not perceived as a threat and any future actions that go beyond this number will be put down,” he said.