Successes And Failures Of The African Union
September 28, 2016
#PartyPolitics: Botswana
September 29, 2016

Zimbabwe’s Strange Turn Against The Tide.

Recent developments and protests in Zimbabwe are a rare occurrence and were not expected to say the least. The government became comfortable in its shortcomings. The announcement to introduce bond notes to resolve US dollar shortages and unwittingly the ensuing import ban did not sit well with the already embattled populace and was the final nail in the coffin. However, to understand these recent events, it is vital for one to provide a brief history of this Sothern African country. Zimbabwe’s post-colonial era was embraced with mixed emotions. It became a subject of a plethora of interpretations. On one hand, Zimbabwe was dubbed as ‘the break-basket of Africa’ hinged on a very successful agricultural sector and one of the most spoken about successful stories of Africa with its local currency going head to head with the United States dollar from the 1980s into the 1990s.On the other, Zimbabwe was being modelled into a one party state, wherein opposition and dissenting voices were heavily criticised and in some cases persecuted which brings into light the infamous Gukurahundi massacre, the arrests/expulsion of early opposition leaders from the mainstream such as Joshua Nkomo, Ndabaningi Sithole, Margret Dongo and Edgar Tekere whose organisations were barely successful and consequently obliterated into the historical dustbin and efforts to recuperate are futle. From here on, Zimbabwe embarked on a constant trajectory of economic decomposition coupled with political regression under the guise of massive human rights abuses and International condemnation.

Brief historical background

After 1980, Zimbabwe was bound to become an autocracy due to the Socialist stance assumed by the government. The State’s approach to governance was deeply anchored in the Soviet style leadership which thrives for ‘unity and nation-building’ by thwarting any forms of opposition and dissent .In this way, embarked on a tough restructuring and recalibration of Statism which did not recognise multi-partyism and the growth an independent civil society that would advance the needs of marginalised groups. This was also coupled with the formation of a strong security apparatus which was responsible for maintaining ‘unity and nation-building.’ This imposed negative peace in Zimbabwe, a state of cosmetic stability which is maintained by police surveillance, extra-judicial arrests and abductions which force people to be silent in the midst of political and economic turmoil. This fear is the one which compelled the masses to be silent despite the apparent socio-economic difficulties and claims by those in power that their citizenry is peaceful up to this day. Zimbabweans never enjoyed civil-political rights as they should despite obtaining independence in 1980.

Despite the State’s efforts to curb any opposition, due to soaring prices and decreasing standards of living in the 1990s, trade unions started to mobilise and the impending referendum in 2000 to reinforce Presidential powers among other things, led to the formation of resilient civil society organisations such as the National Constitutional Assembly and an opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change[1], which entirely changed the face politics in Zimbabwe altogether in the new millennium. Despite these democratic developments, the larger sector of the Zimbabwean population was (is) still gripped with fear and paralysis to engage in politics due to ongoing crackdowns and arrests by the police and military. Between the period 2000 and 2016, human rights activists such as Itai Dzamara and Evan Mawarire have been abducted/disappeared/charged with treason, opposition legislators sent death threats and rallies violently disrupted. This approach has kept many autocracies in power, including the one in Zimbabwe which has ruled for 36 years with an iron fist.

The current situation

Ensuing the announcement by the government to introduce bond notes in March, 2016 people and opposition parties started to mobilise en masse marked with various marches mainly in Harare and Bulawayo, the two main cities in Zimbabwe. All hell broke loose when the government unwittingly introduced a new law which imposes import bans between South Africa and Zimbabwe in the midst of a protracted and unprecedented economic meltdown in the latter. I opine that introducing this regulation triggered violence in the least expected town, Beit Bridge because over the years this has increasingly become the life line for most citizens grappling with the economic meltdown which the government is failing to address.

This regulation is a deliberate move to increase suffering upon an already troubled nations which will also trigger acute food shortages in a country with a dormant industrial and agricultural sector which cannot feed its own. Furthermore, Zimbabwean citizens were heavily relying on this border post which was also playing a pivotal role in as far as revenue generation is concerned in a country with a staggering 85% unemployment rate[2]. This translated into frustration-aggression against a government which imposes protocols which increase suffering of the ordinary people. Citizens are tired of people in power who always go against the people’s will and advice coming from a background that the Zimbabwean government is going ahead with introducing bond notes even in spite of public resistance.

Resilience in the face of police brutality

Democracy and human rights have since been undermined in Zimbabwe and remain a far cry. My motivation to write this piece is based on the notion that “… people should not sit idly and not be concerned about what happens elsewhere, because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”[3]. In my own carefully considered opinion, the security sector, in particular the police remain the main culprits and obstacle to good governance in Zimbabwe. They are the ones who always rein on people even when they have legitimate concerns and are clamouring for bread and butter issues. They keep on supporting a government which has since mismanaged the country. Under normal circumstances, the security sector breaks ranks with the State when it is apparent that citizen’s concerns are legit. The relationship between the Zimbabwean State and its citizens is a delicate one which deserves to be handled with caution, suffice to say that it should be taken seriously as a potential threat to peace and security in Zimbabwe. Democracy is a system of governance in which rulers are held accountable for their actions in the public realm by citizens[4] (emphasis added), if they reject to be held accountable the country becomes ungovernable. The mood to democratize is now everywhere. People in the Diaspora are also mobilising and protesting at Zimbabwean embassies.

The present generation in Zimbabwe is confident that the destiny of their country is in their hands and that citizens must act now to shape the future they want. It is important for them to remain resilient in the face of police brutality. I am of the view that given the economic tempest the State is facing, it is impossible for the crackdown to remain sustainable. The army and police equipment require millions to operate which the government does not have. The operation might be sustained for a week or two but in the long run the government will fall on its knees and give in. Police brutality is not sustainable against a resilient citizenry. America and South Africa among other are a testament to that when their citizens were fighting for their rights. Martin Luther King Jr. once traversed that to ignite a concerted and unequivocal voice to force the leadership to hear and act on our demands, we must “demonstrate, march, protest…disturb the peace”[5] peacefully of course. Videos have been circulating heavily on social media showing the police beating peaceful protesters including women and children even those suspected of verbally supporting the uprising.

The State has since employed such draconian mechanisms to curb opposition; Aziz (1993) raises the ante by arguing that State battles … are won by striking fear into the heart of the (perceived) enemy[6], however to its own peril.“Non-violent movements are successful because they wield power that is greater than that of the oppressors”[7] and attributes this success to the morality associated with the approach. In essence, peace overcomes violence. Non-violent resistance attracts local, regional and international attention and support. I vehemently reject that power only originates from traditional elements such as holding political offices, control of material resources and the State’s capacity to use force alone but mass non-violent resistance also is equally if not more powerful even as early as the 1930s when India obtained independence.

In my view, the 21st century is perhaps the time in which people have embraced and understood ‘people power’ from the #Arab springs to the recent #feesmustfall campaigns in South Africa. In Zimbabwe, mantras such as #Tajamuka, #Asijiki and #ThisFlag are trending on social media and people participation in back to back stay aways is on the rise. Hence, people must not fear to continue protesting. A reign of terror only isolates the oppressor. Zimbabwean’s non-violence approach such as protests and stay aways is a powerful approach by traversing that it also overwhelms fear that is instilled in the masses because “these actions undermine even a despot’s support…”[8] even amongst his cronies. Zimbabweans must remain resilient which is viewed as a strange turn against the tide. The fact is when people do not obey, rulers cannot rule. Zimbabwe’s future lies in citizen’s hands.

[1] Brian Raftopololous (2009), Becoming Zimbabwe, Weaver Press, Harare.

[2] United Nations Development Programme (2015), Harare, Zimbabwe.

[3] Martin Luther Jr (1963)”; Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King, Martin Luther Jr, The Martin Luther Jr Research and Education Institute, United States of America.

 

[4]Schmitter P.C and Karl T.L (1991), What Democracy is and is Not, Vol.2, No.3,76 Journal of Democracy.

 

[5] Martin Luther Jr (1963)”; Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King, Martin Luther Jr, The Martin Luther Jr Research and Education Institute, United States of America.

[6] Aziz,A(1993), Terrorism: Patterns of Internationalization, Sage Publications, USA.

 

[7]Merriman H (2010) “The Trifecta of Civil Resistance: Unity, Planning, Discipline” International Centre on Nonviolent Conflict.

[8]Ibid.

T.Tlou is a freelance researcher and writer specializing in Human rights, the Peace and Governance issues. He is also a holder of a BSc (Honours) Degree in Peace and Governance and is also in possession a Post-Graduate Applied Conflict Transformation Certificate. These are his personal views. No other person or organisation must be implicated in my analysis.