Zimbabwe’s season of rising discontent

Mugabe’s government faces one of the biggest challenges in its 36-year history, as citizens become desperate for change.

Zanu PF supporters attend a rally by Robert Mugabe
Collective actions have brought back memories of political tension that haunted the country less than a decade ago [EPA]

Harare, Zimbabwe – Samuel Chamu sits on a brown velvet sofa with his left arm in a sling and plaster cast.

It’s his first day back in his two-room home after a police raid on his neighbourhood of Budiriro, a high-density suburb in Zimbabwe’s capital, left him with a broken arm after security forces tried to contain the unrest.

In collective actions reminiscent of a period nearly a decade ago of political tension and economic collapse, citizen activists and labour unions have recently organised a work stay away and a three-day nationwide strike.

Frustration over a deepening liquidity crisis has put the 36-year-old government under increasing pressure to address the deteriorating economic situation, which analysts say could push protests to continue if the underlying issues remain unaddressed.

 [Tendai Marima/Al Jazeera]
 [Tendai Marima/Al Jazeera]

For Chamu, a 50-year old wood chopper freshly discharged from the hospital after an alleged assault by five officers left him with his arm broken in two places, Zimbabwe simply has to change.

It really pains me that I saw this government taking power in 1980 and today we're free from white rule, but they're the ones who broke my bones.

by Chamu

“On the day of the stay away, I was at home when the police came into my yard and ordered me to lie down and began hitting me with their batons and kicking me. They said I was instructing the children to rebel, but the youths fighting with the police were not mine.

“My wife and daughter were watching from the window inside and none of our neighbours could do anything except watch. It really pains me that I saw this government taking power in 1980 and today we’re free from white rule, but they’re the ones who broke my bones,” he told Al Jazeera.

Chamu said the incident had deeply affected his family. His 14-year old daughter was apparently so scared the police might return, she had to be sent to live with an aunt in another part of Budiriro. 

While the police commissioner has said officers were deployed to maintain law and order, reports of police brutality in Budiriro and neighbouring Mufakose are not unheard of. 

George Maruta, 64, a technician, told Al Jazeera the windows of his home were smashed by more than a dozen officers as they moved down his street..

Although he reported the matter, Maruta has little faith in the justice system and is doubtful the police will investigate the matter and compensate him the $103 it will cost to repair the damage.

Condemning the violence, This Flag, the citizen movement which called for the three-day stay-away last Wednesday, said allegations of police brutality are the reason why they will continue to protest for change.

“We condemn acts of violence by the police. This is what they’ve done to us for so long, but we can no longer allow this government to brutalise us and think we’ll be quiet,” said the group’s leader, Evan Mawarire.

[Tendai Marima/Al Jazeera]
[Tendai Marima/Al Jazeera]

Determined to make the government pay attention to people’s grievances, This Flag has called for a two-day stay away on July 13 and 14 if the government fails to take heed of its demands over the state of the economy.

“We are calling on government to heed our calls and act on the corruption and intimidation which has killed our country. We’re prepared to continue with our actions because we want to live in a better Zimbabwe,” he told Al Jazeera.

‘The end-game’

In what was started a day after Zimbabwe’s 36th independence day in April this year, by Mawarire, a church pastor, the increasingly popular citizen movement has called for the dismissal of corrupt ministers and the reduction of road blocks whose increasing presence led to riots in three areas of the capital last Monday. 

The group is also pressing the government to end restrictions on basic imports, limitations which recently ignited violent demonstrations in Beitbridge on the southern border with South Africa.

Mike Bimha, the minister of industry and trade, told Al Jazeera that regulations would remain in place as a protective measure for Zimbabwe’s struggling manufacturing industry.

This Flag is also petitioning for the reversal of a controversial decision to introduce bond notes, a local US-backed currency.

The move has sparked fears the country could slide back into a crisis similar to the hyperinflation era of the 2000s, when the fast-depreciating Zimbabwe dollar was indefinitely suspended. As a result, multiple foreign currencies, including the US dollar, have become local tender since 2009.

While Mugabe is confident the liquidity crunch and cash shortages are “a temporary problem”, Zimbabwe’s economic growth has slowed to less than 1.5 percent, and government and private industry are struggling to stay afloat.

Wary of the recent unrest, Mugabe has called on his supporters to remain vigilant against a “foreign” attempt to overthrow his government. 

In an effort to address civil servants’ grievances, a day after the stay-away, pay dates for health workers were moved forward by a week, from July 14 to 8.

Follow Tendai Marima on Twitter: @i_amten