Protesting Zimbabweans ‘speaking with one voice’
“Zimbabweans are saying enough is enough,” said Jestina Mukoko, who heads the non-profit Zimbabwe Peace Project in Harare.
In the past protests were limited to one part of society, each one “angered at different levels at different times,” she said.
“But what we have a now is that the deepening poverty has kind of united Zimbabweans and somehow people are speaking with one voice.”
Zimbabwe has seen a spike in the number and frequency of protests against the administration of President Robert Mugabe since June. Mugabe has ruled the country since independence in 1980.
“The bout of protests increasingly show that citizens have claimed their constitutional rights to demand accountability and response to their demands,” Mukoko said at an international human rights conference in Johannesburg.
But Mukoko warned that the mounting protests — spawned by a weak economy, rampant corruption and deepening poverty — could trigger chaos if they succeeded in dislodging Mugabe.
“We still have long way to go. In ZANU-PF at the moment there is factional fighting, so even if he (Mugabe) was to step down today there will still be that wrestle for power and that might actually be more bloody than what we are seeing at the moment.”
Zimbabweans have taken to Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag “ThisFlag” to share the hardships of living under the 92-year-old Mugabe’s rule and to organise protests.
– ‘Citizens are not afraid’ –
“What we are seeing is that citizens are not afraid to go on the streets… we haven’t seen this in a long time,” Mukoko told AFP on the sidelines of the conference, organised by the International Federation for Human Rights.
The government’s planned introduction of a token currency — equivalent in value to the US dollar — has triggered memories of the country’s devastating 2008 economic collapse, prompting people to take to their concerns to the streets.
Zimbabwean authorities have responded to protests by deploying police to violently put down the demonstrations, and at a government event earlier this month Mugabe warned that protests “don’t pay”.
“Things like protests don’t pay because usually they end up being violent protests,” the long-ruling president said.
“What does it help to go in the streets with the intention to show that you are able to throw stones?”
Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe for 36 years.
“We see a government that is desperate and also using desperate measures (by blocking social media). We expect to see a lot of that because mobilisation has been going on the social media,” said Mukoko.
“The heavy-handedness that we see the police demonstrating now is what they have used, and they repressed, brutalised those with dissenting voices. They have used those images to instil fear in other citizens and for (a) long time people did not want to cross the line… but I suppose Zimbabweans are saying it’s all dying — whether we remain quiet or we talk about it.”
Mukoko was abducted by Zimbabwean state security agents and tortured in 2008.