In a space of two months, post-independence Zimbabwe has seen more protests than before. We have seen various faces to protests in Zimbabwe, from go-slows to mass stay aways, the new one man protests to million men marches, from placards to hash tags on social media.
One of the common place statements in Zimbabwe these days is anything to do with protesting, be it suggesting one, participating in one or even joking about protesting against the most mundane of things. Be that as it may, it goes to show that protests have been part of human development throughout the ages, be it in politics, religion or social issues. Zimbabwe is not exempt from this historical thread, as we have had our fair share of protests and uprisings. However, for long Zimbabweans have been arguably known to be a timid people who hardly have time for mass protests, but this has also been aided by the use of repressive state apparatuses (RSA) to intimidate anyone who might have been harbouring those thoughts.
It is in the writers’ interest to have a disclaimer; that this is neither an article to applaud or ridicule any protest, but rather an analysis of how protests have been occurring in Zimbabwe over the years. We have to set the tone and record straight from the onset, lest you protest against me, I wonder what the hash tag would be. Maybe #Ndanamustfall or #thisNdana?
Unfolding events in Post-independence Zimbabwe’s Political Climate
Since independence, the ruling elite have put in place strategies to ensure that their ideologies are disseminated using different media, as evolving as they have been. With one of the major ideas being that Zimbabweans should guard against foreign doctrines and ideologies. Scholars have argued that the state has used state controlled media (Zimpapers, ZBC’s TV and radio stations) to disseminate propaganda messages and support from the Central Intelligence Office also ensured discipline and order amongst the populace. Despite these measures, the natural characteristics of human nature that speak to the effect that we may not all agree with each other’s ideas have been growing and citizen activism and uprisings could not be avoided for much longer.
Mass Stay-Aways in the 1980s- 1990s
Strikes and protests from 1981-98 were swiftly crushed by the ZANU-PF led government which ensured authoritarianism through merging various workers unions into one autonomous Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). By 1987, ZANU PF had secured immeasurable political control under the leadership of Robert Mugabe. However, despite this ‘homogeneity,’ discontent could be felt within the civil society; intellectuals, peasants, and students had become radicalised by declining living standards.
Between 1988 and 1989, students from the University of Zimbabwe and other tertiary institutions formed Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) and questioned poor governance and demonstrated against corruption. Later on, further support from other unions such as the ZCTU under the leadership of Morgan Tsvangirai supported the protests against the same issues. These were the first early warning signs of public discontent across Zimbabwe.
The 1990s, through Economic Structural Adjustment Programs (ESAP), brought untold suffering to the public. The adjustments required by this policy included, large cuts on government subsidies to the health and education sectors, and on basic commodities. Trade liberalisation and deregulation of imports led to high levels of unemployment and high-ceilinged poverty. This triggered industrial actions which characterised the 1990s. Many have referred to this period as the ‘decade of unprecedented industrial action’. The late 1990s strikes have for long been regarded as the last major strikes to have happened in Zimbabwe.
August-September of 1996 saw an extraordinary public sector strike. About 70,000+ public service workers protested against poor salaries, poor working conditions and corruption among other issues. The protests were largely in the form of mass stay aways. Numerous strikes from 1996 to 1997 culminated into a two-day general strike which started on December 9, 1997. It became known as the “Red Tuesday”.
This continued into 1998 and the vicious police actions hardly deterred the frustrated public. War veterans had now joined the mass actions, demanding their pensions and better living conditions. Housewives reportedly initiated a riot against increasing prices of basic commodities. There was far-reaching economic and political mayhem in 1999 as opposition against the ruling ZANU PF had significantly grown. The introduction of the fast track land redistribution and invasions had probably been anticipated to shrink opposition. However, opposition remained momentous as the program attracted international condemnation.
With growing opposition, violence and general intimidations by army, security services and war veterans against opposition supporters became the order of the day until the general elections of 2002. The International community condemned these as a gross violation of human rights, but the ruling party remained arrogant and indifferent in their quest to crush opposition
Later in 2005 the government embarked on Operation Murambatsvina to rid the urban areas of illegal structures. Hundreds of thousands of urban dwellers, who most of them were already jobless, were left homeless and further pauperised. From 2006 inflation continued skyrocketing to a point where it reached 8000% in 2007. Economic meltdown continued to 2008 and this period is remembered as the worst and no one wants to re-live it.
Occupation and One Man Protests
Fast forward to 2013, Itai Dzamara has been well known for the ‘Occupy Africa Unity Square’ (OAUS), which came in motion after he hand delivered a petition to Mr Mugabe asking him to resign as President of Zimbabwe. OAUS was a way of communicating dissatisfaction to the leadership. Dzamara was physically assaulted and left unconscious. He was later abducted and is still missing. Dzamara started a unique way of peaceful protesting which also made it difficult for security agents to accuse him of violence.
Patson Dzamara, brother to Itai, made a one man protest against security procedures among other political ills. In 2015, a church leader from Victoria Falls pulled a solo demo by chaining himself to a pole in a “Mugabe Must Go” campaign.
A March for a March
Marches, have become a common sight in Harare and Bulawayo. This can be attributed to the 2013 Constitution that permits peaceful marching. The MDC-T on the 14 of April 2016 organised a march against the alleged ‘disappearance’ of $15 billion in diamond revenue and poor governance among other issues, which pulled quite a crowd. In response, thousands of ZANU PF supporters were bussed from across Zimbabwe to a ‘million men march’. As if attempting to claim political superiority through numbers, it is believed the ‘million’ men march on the 25th of May was organised to counter the MDC-T march which had called for the immediate resignation of Mr. Mugabe.
On the 28th of May the MDC-T marched again in Bulawayo. Various lobby groups have also marched recently. Religious movements have presented petitions against the indoctrination of minors through the National Pledge. At the same time, the message of political discontent has occupied the pulpit; it is no longer disseminated clandestinely.
On the 20th of July, ZANU PF youths, marched against #ThisFlag movement, giving threats to pastor Evan Mawarire for having started the social media ‘revolution’.
The new dynamics of protests entail both the victim and the perpetrator being active, which is greatly different from the 1990s way of protests where only the opposition protested as victims, against the ruling ZANU PF.
Noteworthy is the double standards shown by the police on protesters. A number of peaceful protests by the opposition have ended with police brutality on unarmed citizens or malicious arrests. But when the ruling ZANU PF youths march, there is hardly any reported clampdown on protesters by police. Not that there should be any unwarranted clampdown on any groups but the reaction of the police on either groups has become predictable.
Article written by Ndana Moyo, a young development practitioner, feminist, blogger, and entrepreneur. Her research interests are women and sexual minorities.
Main image: Zanu-Pf’s million-man march. Image taken from www.263chat.com