ZIMBABWEANS, widely ridiculed as docile and cowardly, are finally arising from their deep slumber to openly and fearlessly challenge President Robert Mugabe’s authoritarian regime amid economic turmoil.
Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya
People from across the political and social divide are gradually but surely emerging from the depths of docility and despair to not only challenge, but also confront Mugabe, his mediocrities and lackeys.
Social discontent and popular resistance have been steadily rising as the economy continues on a precipitous downward spiral. This has replaced a climate of fear with an environment of widespread agitation and tension.
For far too long, Zimbabweans have been unable or unwilling to tackle the Mugabe regime head-on. At the height on the MDC power, the struggle was outsourced to Sadc and other outsiders. Farming out the struggle eventually stalled and crippled it.
Of course, the MDC fought hard and fearlessly the Zanu PF regime in the past 15 years, but the methods and terrain of the struggle were largely inappropriate, hence they failed.
The current protest marches by the MDC-T around the country are a step in the right direction, although they need to be co-ordinated with demonstrations by other dissenting forces and be sustained. They are different from the strategy of regional diplomatic offensives and international lobbying which rattle the regime, but does not shake it to its foundations as internal protests often do.
What has been happening of late is instructive. Since April, the MDC-T has been stepping up anti-government demonstrations and pressure in protest against economic failure, company closures, job losses, unemployment and poverty, as well as human rights abuses and suffering.
Beyond the resurgent MDC-T actions, the current sporadic protests around the country — from the Beitbridge explosive riots to Harare protests this week and Wednesday’s national shutdown — show people are now fed up and that there is growing consensus on the need to confront the government against the odds without flinching.
The demonstrations, triggered by a ban on certain basic imports, cash shortages and failure to pay civil servants salaries on time, over and above deep economic and social problems, could be a turning point.
The difference now is that converging social movements — the people themselves and not opposition parties — are at the forefront of the struggle. This is a new and unique development here.
In the case of the national shutdown on Wednesday, Pastor Evan Mawarire and his movement #ThisFlag spearheaded the stay-away which was supported by teachers, nurses and civil society groups such as Crisis Coalition in Zimbabwe, Bulawayo Youth Arise, Cotrad in Masvingo and the Human NGO Forum, among others.
Mawarire, civic leaders, vendors and ordinary people used social media — the new AK47 used by citizens to fight for freedom from their smartphone trenches — as a mobilising platform Arab Spring-style and pulled off a major coup against Mugabe’s coercive apparatus.
Outmanoeuvred and unable to cope in the unfamiliar landscape of non-violent resistance, police in some cases ended behaving like agent provocateurs as happened in Mufakose in Harare and Makokoba in Bulawayo.
In dictatorships, even civil disobedience has been met with threats, beatings, imprisonment and ultimately loss of life. Violence and brutality by dictatorial states are always lurking below the surface ready to be unleashed whenever the people stand up, even peacefully, to the regime. Hence, jobs, bones broken and lives will always be sacrificed in such struggles.
However, civil resistance has been effective in situations like these. Methods of non-violent action include protest marches, rallies, vigils, picketing, boycotts, strikes and boycotting sham elections to withdraw legitimacy.
These can dramatically threaten the regime’s control and change the balance of forces. Power relations often determine the outcome of struggles like these.
From Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr to Lech Walesa, non-violent protests worked. Indeed, from the streets of Bucharest to the slums of Manila, Warsaw, Kiev, Tbilisi, Tunis and Cairo during the Arab Spring, civil resistance eventually brought down entrenched dictators. People power invariably wins in the end.