Zim tastes the power of peaceful protest

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Picture Credit: AFP

ZIMBABWEAN protesters say there is no going back on demands that the government address corruption and job losses, and for President Robert Mugabe to step down.

This is despite the arrest and subsequent release of one of the organisers of demonstrations that rocked the country earlier this month. Zimbabwe is grappling with a worsening economic crisis that has cut productivity and forced companies to shut down. Business executives in the country say the economy requires policies that encourage investors to sink money into the economy.

However, Mugabe’s government is digging in, saying sanctions imposed by Western nations are hurting efforts to revive and grow the economy. Social media has emerged in Zimbabwe as a platform where youths and other groups are venting their economic frustrations, as well as becoming a rallying point for mobilisation of demonstrations and protests against Mugabe’s government.

The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change, led by former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai, has however remained outside the current crusade against the government. Tsvangirai, who appointed two more deputies – making them three – for his party, has remained outside the limelight.

Analysts in Zimbabwe say youths are being drawn to the protests because those spearheading them are not political parties, but just concerned citizens facing daily economic hardships. Evan Mawarire, a pastor who has started the #thisflag campaign, and Promise Mkwananzi of the #tajamuka campaign have insisted that Mugabe must step down.

Both are in their early and late thirties, and say they have had enough of the economic suffering that has gripped Zimbabweans. Economic hardship has forced others to seek better prospects in countries such as South Africa and Botswana.

Civil society leaders in Zimbabwe have called for the protests organised through social media to be intertwined with political parties, to make them vibrant and robust. However, others have different opinions, saying political parties will drive away most of the participants.

Even churches are speaking out

It has emerged that the current wave of protests is serving the interests of those affected by the situation in Zimbabwe. Even churches have started to speak out against Mugabe’s alleged misrule, more evidence that politicians are playing a less significant role in the protests.

Although the protesters have vowed to press on, they have also been disjointed in their approach and their attempts have often misfired, with last week’s call for protests being described as premature, coming only a week after the hugely successful round of protests and stay-aways staged by disgruntled government workers.

The government has also sought to discredit the protest leaders, saying they are being funded by other countries. Mawarire is currently in South Africa, having flown there soon after his release nearly a week ago. He has used social media to reassure his followers that the visit to SA was a prior arrangement, after sentiment grew that he was evading arrest in Harare.

But despite the efforts to drum up support against Mugabe and vent anger in a peaceful manner, the streets of Harare are still full of informal traders, jobless people and fading hopes and prospects for a better life. Yet, in Mawarire and current protests, Zimbabweans have started to see an alternative way of raising their frustrations.

The government has also responded with silence, with traffic police now less bothersome to travellers using private vehicles. It has also backed down on a ban on imports of most goods and commodities.

The government has clarified that goods imported for personal use will not require a special permit. Some items have also been lifted off the restrictions list and these include hair products, dairy products and soaps.

The power of the peaceful protests still dominates discourse in Zimbabwe at the moment, and civil servants have for now been pacified after the government paid their salaries for June – although belatedly. July salaries are however likely to be delayed and this could also prompt another wave of protest action by civil servants.

The government is cash-strapped and investors and funders have reportedly demanded that it fix problems such as external debt and arrears before fresh funding can be extended. The government also needs to reduce the public expenditure bill and address a bloated civil service wage bill, which is eating up as much as over 70% of revenues.

The earlier protests may have failed to push Mugabe out of power, but it did manage to make him pause and stop to reflect on mounting public sentiment against his administration.

Whether he will respond positively to that remains to be seen, but what is certain is that more protests will come – especially after he was given an August 31 ultimatum to address the current economic situation and provide a road map.-Fin24

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