Community Responses to Crackdown on Dissent in Zimbabwe

The main political opposition party in Zimbabwe, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) called for general mass action against the government of Zimbabwe to protest against the deteriorating economic and human rights situation in the country. The protests were to take place in five major cities across Zimbabwe from 16 – 22 August 2019. Zimbabwe is currently battling runaway inflation, currency (cash) shortages, crippling 19 hour power cuts each day, massive unemployment and a dysfunctional public health system. Further, since January 2019, the State has arrested 22 activists and charged them with treason. Abductions and torture of human rights advocates and activists has become the norm.

As per the legal requirements under the Public Order and Security Act (Posa), the conveners of the demonstrations notified the police of the impending marches. The police responded by issuing prohibition orders against all the planned demonstrations citing lack of sufficient police details to monitor the marches and the fragile political and security situation in the country. The MDC approached the courts seeking recourse without success. Effectively the marches were banned and the State deployed state security details in the five major cities where the demonstrations were set to take place and the protests never took off.

Political Organising

In Harare, opposition political activists defied the police prohibition and court order against the convening of the protests and gathered in the central business district on the 16th of August 2019. The police responded by using disproportionate force on the protesters and 91 activists were arrested. Arrested protesters appeared in court and were denied bail.

Political organising against the government has been going in major cities despite the State’s use of intimidation and arrests. Opposition leaders in the cities of Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru and Masvingo were arrested and charged for leading community organising efforts against the government.

Civil Society Organising

Despite the heavy-handed response to the MDC organised protests by the State, the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) a trade union representing teachers organised a protest outside the treasury headquarters on the 23rd of August 2019 to protest against low salaries that have been eroded by inflation.

Eight protesters who included a legal representative of the union and a journalist were arrested and released on ZW$50.00 (USD4.50) bail.

Protest Arts

A local arts production organisation, Bus Stop TV, has been producing satirical productions depicting the excesses of the State and the use of disproportionate force against protesters peacefully assembling.

Samantha Kureya an actress with Bus Stop TV was abducted by armed men suspected to be state security agents from her home and tortured. She has featured prominently in the organisation’s productions depicting excesses of the State and has become a face of defiance against the State.

Social Media Activism

There has been massive organisation against State brutality and human rights abuses on social media, mainly Twitter and WhatsApp. This is despite the fact that some prominent activists and politicians have been arrested in the past accused of using social media to foment chaos and working to subvert a constitutionally elected government.

Legal Petitions

After the police issued prohibition orders against the MDC protests, the political party approached the courts seeking an order to overturn the police decision without success.

(International) Media Advocacy

Human rights advocates and opposition politicians have resorted to using international media to write about the political, economic and human rights challenges in Zimbabwe. One can argue that, the use of international media to put across the Zimbabwean story to the world could be a ploy to attract international attention to the deteriorating human rights, political and economic situation in Zimbabwe.

Below are some of the articles that have been written by prominent human rights defenders and senior politicians within the opposition.

Evan Mawarire is an activist and founder of ThisFlag Movement.

Mawarire, E 2019 Violence in Zimbabwe is Escalating: But We Won’t Stop Fighting for Our Freedoms, 23 August 2019, Available from: https://time.com/5659615/zimbabwe-protests/ 24 August 2019

Tendai Biti is the Vice President of the MDC and lawmaker.

Biti, T 2019 History Repeats Itself in Zimbabwe - New President, Same Old Problems, 20 August 2019 < Zimbabwe's History of Hyperinflation Repeats Itself> 24 August 2019

Fadzayi Mahere is a lawyer and high ranking official of the MDC

Mahere, F 2019 We were promised change – but corruption and brutality still rule in Zimbabwe, 19 August 2019, Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/aug/19/corruption-brutality-zimbabwe-emmerson-mnangagwa-protesters 24 August 2019

“Stay Away” / Boycott

In Harare, the capital and Bulawayo, the country’s second largest city, most people did take heed of the call by the MDC to protest against the government by not turning up to work and stayed in their homes. The ‘stay away’ strategy could have been influenced by the fear that the State was going to use violence against protesters if they dared to into the streets to protest.

On the 16th and 19th of August 2019, in Harare and Bulawayo respectively, there was less human and vehicular traffic on the roads and in the central business districts of the two cities. In Bulawayo, where I reside, most businesses were closed in the central business district.

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