DESPITE Zanu PF pulling all the stops to pre-empt further protests and stay-aways, as the momentum of anti-government demonstrations continues to grow due to the worsening economic crisis.
By Elias Mambo
President Robert Mugabe last week pressed the panic button by dispatching senior members of the politburo to the country’s 10 provinces amid growing social discontent and unrest characterised by massive protests.
The majority of Zimbabweans stayed away from work on Wednesday last week after being mobilised by #ThisFlag campaign leader Pastor Evan Mawarire. Prior to the stay-away, the country had witnessed several protests, including riots in Beitbridge over government’s decision to ban imports of basic commodities through Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016; riots by commuter omnibus crews in Epworth, Mabvuku and Tafara over extortionist roadblocks; and demonstrations against Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko’s long stay at Rainbow Towers Hotel.
The deployment also came at a time when the politburo, Zanu PF’s de facto highest decision-making body in-between congresses, raised a red flag over growing unrest. It ordered Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo to crackdown on perceived organisers and gang leaders of the protesters.
Riot police have been patrolling the country’s major cities, as tension caused by Mugabe’s ruinous economic policies grow.
The demonstrations came after days of protests over the government’s failure to pay civil servants’ salaries, a currency shortage, import restrictions and multiple police roadblocks accused of extorting cash from motorists.
Mugabe’s government has delayed pay dates for civil servants as Treasury is broke following years of economic mismanagement and decline worsened by a severe drought which has hit agriculture.
However, after mounting pressure Treasury paid the remaining civil servants ahead of its scheduled dates to pacify workers and pre-empty further stay-aways.
The calls for repression from politburo resulted in police arresting Promise Mkwananzi, spokesperson of a group that has been leading protests known as Tajamuka/Sesjikile (we have rebelled), in an attempt to crush the protests
This week police arrested Mawarire, but the move backfired as it stirred a national outcry which saw more than a thousand people thronging the Harare Magistrates Court in solidarity with the social movement activist.
Yesterday, police also had to disperse hundreds of MDC-T supporters who had gathered outside the party headquarters, Harvest House, to welcome their leader Morgan Tsvangirai who returned last week from South Africa where he was undergoing medical treatment for colon cancer.
As part of efforts to contain a civil uprising, the government has also ensured the country’s uniformed forces are paid ahead of other civil servants, while keeping army bosses happy by buying them state-of-the-art vehicles and ensuring mass promotions.
Mugabe deployed Mphoko to Beitbridge last weekend where protesters torched a Zimbabwe Revenue Authority warehouse, destroying property worth thousands of dollars in the process. Mphoko addressed government heads of departments, councillors and other local leaders in Beitbridge where he went to get “first-hand” information on the causes of the riots that rocked the border town on July 1.
He threatened to use the military to deal with violent protests.
“We will look at our own ways of solving such problems … we have security forces. We cannot keep snakes growing in our backyards,” Mphoko said.
In Harare, Zanu PF dispatched First Lady Grace Mugabe to address a ruling party inter-district conference as authorities grappled to find a solution to stem growing dissent among Zimbabweans.
The First Lady said she feared Zimbabwe could slip into turmoil similar to the uprisings that toppled dictators in North Africa. Grace said Zimbabweans must learn from countries such as Libya and Iraq and stop entertaining forces that might lead to chaos.
Libya and Egypt were among countries affected by the Arab Spring, a revolutionary wave of demonstrations, riots and protests that ignited civil unrest in many countries forcing their leaders out of power in 2011.
“We must take a cue from what happened in Libya, Iraq, Egypt and other countries,” Grace said.
She said people were misled when they were told Saddam Hussein was evil and had weapons of mass destruction, adding that as a result there was no peace in that country.
“Let us not be hoodwinked by our detractors because we know there are some governments that don’t like us and they will give money to sponsor a stay-away,” she claimed.
Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo addressed the Masvingo inter-district conference.
Despite all these efforts, tensions are still simmering on the ground as the nation experiences a continued decline and regression. Capacity utilisation is below 35% as the unemployment rate remains high with the majority of Zimbabweans jobless and now relying on informal trading or street vending to eke out a living.