Inside the Zimbabwean Uprising

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Anti-Robert Mugabe protesters in Harare, Zimbabwe
Anti-Robert Mugabe protesters in Harare, Zimbabwe

A year and half ahead of the 2018 general elections, the poor and working people of Zimbabwe are up in arms against President Robert Gabriel Mugabe and his ZANU-PF regime which has been in power for 36 years. In the last 3 months Zimbabwe has been shaken by protest actions of workers, informal traders, commuter omnibus operators, and unemployed youths. These actions have occurred at a time when the country is experiencing a liquidity crisis and the ruling party structures are crumbling from within as liberation war veterans, once Mugabe’s staunch loyalists, break ranks from the regime. Meanwhile, the opposition political parties (a myriad of MDC splinter groups and two ZANU-PF splinter groups) are in talks to form a coalition party. The regime has since stepped up its repressive measures in a bid to squash dissent.

Since the 2013 elections, in the wake of which the regime consolidated its control of the state after defeating the MDC-T (the main MDC faction) at the polls, the Zimbabwean working-class has been reluctant to engage in direct action against the regime because of disillusionment with the corrupt and neoliberal character of the MDC-T which was fully exposed during the Government of National Unity’s tenure, when this party was in bed with the regime. Moreover, 13 years of the regime’s physical brutality, detentions and assassinations had completely decimated the militant cadreship of the pro-democracy movement. To make matters worse, the working-class organizations that had galvanized the poor people’s struggles of the late 90s and spearheaded the formation of the MDC as a workers’ party were all under the party’s armpits and had surrendered their organizational capacity to it. These organizations include the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the Zimbabwe National Students Union, the Combined Harare Residents Association and its counterparts in other cities. In the face of an overwhelming electoral defeat of the MDC-T they are still trying to recover and reconcile with reality. As a result these traditional organizations have had little, if anything at all, to do with the recent uprising. Interestingly, outside of the objective material conditions themselves, the recent actions have been catalyzed by informal traders, unemployed youths and social media activists.

Zimbabwe in Africa
Zimbabwe in Africa

In 2014, in the absence of leadership in struggle by the traditional organizations, Itai Dzamara, a journalist-turned-activist, demanding the immediate resignation of President Robert Gabriel Mugabe, initiated the Occupy Africa Unity Square campaign attracting only a handful of supporters with whom he braved police-baton sticks and endured a couple of nights in detention for a few months before his abduction in March 2015. He is still missing and the state denies involvement in his abduction to this day. The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition initiated a social media campaign on tweeter which is dubbed #Bring Back Itai Dzamara. They were soon followed by members of the journalist fraternity who took the campaign into mainstream media. Itai’s brother Patson and a few of Itai’s followers have since then tried to keep the Occupy Africa Unity Square campaign alive but have been unable to mobilize a critical mass.

In May of 2016, a little-known pastor, Evans Mawarire, took to tweeter to vent his frustration against the status quo under the tweeter handler #This Flag. Over a couple of weeks the campaign had gathered significant support online. In this period the cash crisis manifested and overnight long bank queues appeared. The regime could not pay salaries to civil servants (the largest work force in the country which includes the police and the army). As a result they hiked traffic fines to be paid on the spot at roadblocks. They also hiked import duties on all commodities cross-border traders were bringing into the country from South Africa. These circumstances were the spark to the uprising. The first to light up the keg were cross border traders who burnt down the warehouse where the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority kept goods confiscated from traders unable to pay the high import duties at the Beitbridge border post in June this year. This action, even though it was met with a brutal clampdown on suspected arsonists, was followed up domino-effect-style by commuter omnibus operators in Harare who, in protest against the numerous police roadblocks and the high spot fines for traffic offenses, prevented a section of the workers in Harare from getting into the city for a full day. These commuter omnibus operators set up road blockades and were engaged in continuous running battles with the anti-riot police, resulting in the police imposing an unofficial curfew which is still in operation to date in the townships of Harare. The regime also announced plans to introduce Bond Notes (a local currency pegged at par with the US dollar) in order to resolve the cash crisis. Pastor Evans Mawarire, via #This Flag, decided to call for a nationwide stay-away in solidarity with the civil servants, and against Bond Notes. Bond Notes plans are to the working-class reminiscent of Bearer Cheques that the regime introduced and printed en masse to sustain itself between 2004 and 2008. The printing of these Bearer Cheques led to hyperinflation, de-industrialization, and the loss of jobs, earnings and savings by the working-class. The working-class, scared of the specter of hyper-inflation and jolted by the long bank queues responded massively to Mawarire’s call for a stay-away shocking not only the regime, opposition political parties, traditional working class organizations but Mawarire himself. A major contributing factor to the success of the nationwide stay-away was the participation of the civil servants, commuter omnibus operators and the reluctance of the police (civil servants themselves) to repress the action.

In the aftermath of the first action Evan Mawarire made another call for a stay-away in the following week but was arrested a day before the appointed day, with his arrest accompanied by threats and rants from the President, the Minister of Home Affairs and the Commissioner-General of Police. Anti-riot police were deployed en masse into the working-class townships. The following day the response to the stay-away was still there but a lot weaker. Evans Mawarire was charged with treason and attempts to overthrow the government illegally but set free by the magistrate court. He fled to seek refuge in South Africa a couple days later.

Since then, the civil servants have been paid and are back at work. However a number of civic groups have been re-invigorated and continue to have weekly demonstrations in the city against the anticipated introduction of Bond Notes. They are being met with brutal force by the police in blatant violation of the Constitution. The numbers are in the hundreds and for the moment appear not to swell. It is anticipated however that the actions will grow in scale after the actual introduction of the Bond Notes.

Meanwhile, several opposition political parties including the MDC-T(led by Morgan Tsvangirayi), Zimbabwe People First (led by Joice Mujuru, the ousted former deputy to Mugabe), Mavambo/Kusile (led by Simba Makoni, the ousted former Finance Minister under Mugabe) and the various splinter groups of the MDC, are in talks to form a coalition party posed to challenge ZANU-PF at the 2018 polls.

On the other hand, after Robert Gabriel Mugabe purged his deputy, Joice Mujuru, and half of his party out last year, at the instigation of his wife (who has presidential ambitions), he continues to face internal strife in his party. Disaffected by Mugabe’s factionalism and the free reign of his wife within the party, liberation war veterans have broken ranks. Mugabe has responded by arresting perceived ring-leaders and detaining them at his army barracks under the brutality of his Military Intelligence. The liberation war veterans have in the past been the staunchest loyalists of Mugabe. This break is now widely seen as the final crack ahead of the ruling party’s demise.  These “dissident” liberation war veterans are expected to join the ranks of Joice Mujuru’s Zimbabwe People First whose leadership has liberation war credentials (a central concern of war veterans).  This development has given Joice Mujuru better leverage over Tsvangirayi in bargaining for leadership of the “Coalition Party”.

Robert Mugabe and his wife are not done yet with purging perceived dissidents out of the party and in a new twist to the circus, appear to have turned on his new deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, a longtime aide of Mugabe from the days of the liberation war, who is widely believed to have been his chief assassin. This continuing factional fight appears to be a manifestation of the fights instigated by Mugabe’s wife who is paranoid about a post-Mugabe scenario where her family loot might be jeopardized. As part of her mobilization strategy for 2018, she has since appropriated 7000 housing stands in each of the country’s 10 provinces, and allocated them to youth officials in the ruling party’s district structures with no regard for local government regulations and processes.

Will the working people sustain an uprising that will finally bring the ZANU-PF hegemony to its knees? Will the working people forge an alliance of movements to wage class struggle not only against the dictatorship but against capitalism? Will the “Coalition of Parties” hijack this uprising and demobilize the working class? Will the ruling party crumble before the 2018 elections? The Struggle Continues…..