THE growing momentum of the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter campaign on microblogging site Twitter and other social media applications against President Emmerson Mnangagwa (pictured)’s government is indicative of the citizens’ growing discontent over his rule and repressive approach to crush dissent.
Government has been heavy-handed in its bid to stop protests by civil rights groups and political parties against corruption and the deteriorating economic situation characterised by a crippling liquidity crunch, acute fuel and foreign currency shortages, skyrocketing prices and runaway inflation, which has since surpassed the 700% mark, decimating incomes and pensions in the process.
Alarmed by plans to protest on July 31, police arrested opposition politician and organiser of the demonstrations Jacob Ngarivhume and journalist Hopewell Chin’ono for allegedly inciting violence. Appeals for bail have been unsuccessful with the two taken to Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison where they are caged with hardened criminals.
MDC Alliance spokesperson Fadzai Mahere, award-winning author Tsitsi Dangarembga, nephew of journalist Mduduzi Mathuthu, Tawanda Muchehiwa, are among those who were either arrested or tortured over the protests.
MDC-A says 30 of its members are in hiding as the crackdown by the state intensifies. This has prompted the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter social media campaign which has been endorsed by celebrities such as American rapper Ice Cube, Zimbabwean-born South African rugby player Tendai Mtawarira and South African actress, model, television host, and radio personality, Pearl Thusi, among others.
The crackdown by Mnangagwa’s government has not only drawn the ire of the European Union and the United States which have on several occasions criticised government’s chequered human rights record. It has also drawn sharp criticism by the United Nations and closer to home, the African Union (AU).
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres last week said he was following developments in Zimbabwe “with concern”.
“He urges the government of Zimbabwe to ensure the protection of all fundamental human rights, notably the freedom of opinion and expression and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association,” a statement from Guterres’ office said.
AU Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat issued a rare rebuke of a member state after expressing concern at reports of the use of “disproportionate force” by Zimbabwe’s security forces in enforcing Covid-19 emergency measures.
“The chairperson is concerned about reports of disproportionate use of force by security forces in enforcing Covid-19 emergency measures. He implores the authorities to exercise restraint in their response to peaceful protests,” Mahamat’s office said.
South Africa President and AU chairperson Cyril Ramaphosa sent envoys Baleka Mbete, Sydney Mufamadi and advocate Ngoako Abel Ramatlhodi to meet Mnangagwa over the human rights abuses. They, however, did not meet the opposition MDC Alliance as widely expected.
South African opposition parties have also added their voice to the chorus of condemnation with Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema going as far as labelling Mnangagwa “a pig that is eating his children”.
However, during a Heroes’ Day address to the nation on Monday this week, Mnangagwa called criticism of human rights abuses by his government “divisive falsehoods” and said his administration was under a renewed onslaught from domestic and foreign opponents.
“The divisive falsehoods and concoctions by renegades and supremacists who want to pounce on our natural resources will never win the day. Truth shall triumph over lies and good over evil,” Mnangagwa said.
The success of the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter campaign is reflective of the citizens taking it upon themselves to express their discontent with the way they are being governed, according to political analyst, Prolific Mataruse.
“The rise of the Twitter campaign reflects certain disillusionment not only with the state, but the opposition,” Mataruse said. “This is citizens coming with their own strategy with examples of movements such as Tajamuka and Pastor Evan Mawarire movement.”
He said the protest shows the lack of trust in Mnangagwa’s administration.
“Government will need to deal with the negative perception at every level,” Mataruse said.
The attempt by Mnangagwa’s government to stifle protests has backfired as evidenced by the success of the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter campaign which has put even more pressure on the septuagenarian leader, according to political analyst Dumisani Nkomo.
“The campaign has really been phenomenal. The irony is that by suppressing the July 31 protests it has actually birthed an unprecedented Twitter movement that has gone international,” he said. “The regime has been forced to backtrack as a result of the momentum which has taken a life of its own.”
The intensified onslaught against the Mnangagwa regime was unimaginable when the Zimbabwean leader was sworn into office on the back of a military coup that ousted the late former president Robert Mugabe.
Sweeping into office on the back of promises of entrenching democracy and breathing life into the economy by adopting the mantra Zimbabwe is open for business, Mnangagwa enjoyed global goodwill.
As a result the British government availed US$100 million for businesses in the country, the first direct commercial loan in 20 years. Mnangagwa was one of the most sought after politician at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in 2018 with journalists falling over each other to interview the man who had promised to turn the country from an international pariah to a respectable member of the League of Nations.
However, it has been downhill for Mnangagwa since the killing of six citizens by soldiers during a protest over the delay in the announcement of the 2018 harmonised elections results on August 1 that year.