via Will govt crush Tsvangirai’s MDC demo? – DailyNews Live Gift Phiri, NEWS EDITOR • 7 April 2016
HARARE – The MDC has announced it is planning a large-scale civilian protest on April 14.
Opposition officials say this is a fulfilment of a key resolution of the MDC’s 2014 national congress that was held at the City Sports Centre in Harare, to force government to implement fundamental electoral and political reforms agreed to under terms of a Sadc-brokered agreement between Zanu PF and the MDC.
The demo also aims to demand the 2,2 million new jobs espoused in the governing party’s “pie-in-the-sky” 2013 election manifesto, as well as demand answers following President Robert Mugabe’s recent claim that $15 billion had been stolen from the Chiadzwa diamond mining fields.
Essentially, this demo is not meant to topple the Mugabe regime, but force it to prepare the ground for a fair 2018 poll, and demand answers on its appalling economic stewardship.
Today, a national uprising that topples the entrenched Mugabe regime appears less likely, but it cannot be completely ruled out.
Given the pervasive and deepening economic crisis, now characterised by a deepening cash crunch, some Zimbabwean activists have asked why, if countries like Egypt could launch popular uprisings that successfully overthrew governing regimes, could Zimbabwe not do the same?
But unlike in Tunisia or Egypt, the Zimbabwean security forces have repeatedly proven that it is unified at the top levels and willing to use massive deadly force against civilian protesters — it has done so several times since the 1999 food riots, right through the 2003 “mass action” to the post-2008 poll retribution, and there is no guarantee it would not do so again.
There have been several massive anti-regime and pro-democracy protests, all of which have been crushed.
The MDC has said come April 14, thousands of its supporters will march into the centre of Harare to demand political reforms and an end to economic hardships.
But there fears government will likely ruthlessly crush this protest, given that the Joint Operations Command has so far withheld authorisation for this demo and Mugabe himself is attempting to ban social media to stifle the MDC’s organisational capabilities.
The 92-year-old president tries to discredit the MDC, despite its roots in the black unions, as a white movement or one that is directed by white settlers and is under Western handlers.
Still, there remains a chance that the April 14 popular protest could be a success and that with frustration so high, it will devolve into larger-scale protest.
The biggest potential spark would be a decision by the regime to arrest opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who is leading the MDC “mega” demo, as it apparently did in 1998 at the ZCTU’s HQ when hired men unsuccessfully tried to throw him from the 10th floor of his Chester House office in central Harare, the capital, in a bid to stifle food riots. Zimbabwean workers spontaneously downed their tools.
Another such attack on Tsvangirai is hardly out of the question: Mugabe detests the ex-trade unionist and opposition leader, who handed him his first electoral defeat in the 2008 presidential poll.
Though the government and some local analysts have repeatedly written him off as a marginal player now, every time he appears in public, he draws tens of thousands of followers to events, often with little advance notice.
But critics say he is now a “hard sell presidential candidate” after unsuccessfully trying to unseat Mugabe three times in a row in votes condemned as “fraudulent and stolen”, with the last 2013 poll held under a cloud of sex scandals that damaged his reputation.
This past month, Tsvangirai, who has become a symbol of resistance, travelled across Zanu PF’s Mashonaland East Province stronghold and was greeted by fervent well-wishing crowds wherever he went.
Born in 1952 to a bricklayer father in drought-prone Buhera and prematurely ending his studies at Gokomere Mission to support his siblings, his relentless push for democratic change has won him several awards, including an honorary doctorate of Laws from Pai Chai University in South Korea and Solidar Silver Rose award.
Still, compared to years gone by, frustration and anger among average Zimbabwean citizens is much higher today, and the potential for protests to spiral into violence is more severe.
And it is also apparent that as the economic crisis deepens, respect for human rights and freedom of expression and association have deteriorated.
In fact, Zimbabwe has hit the depths of humanitarian and economic despair that were last experienced in 2008, when the country’s seemingly unending political crisis precipitated an economic meltdown of monumental proportions — which culminated in the death of the Zimbabwe dollar and mass emigrations.
The Zimbabwean economy has remained trapped in a painful deflation and austerity mode since the 2013 disputed elections, and the Mugabe regime’s poor economic management has led to multiple bank runs and shortages of food that have spurred food imports and a global humanitarian appeal.
Zimbabwe’s process of political development has been stunted, and the “global political agreement” road to democracy enunciated by Sadc mediator in the Zimbabwean crisis Thabo Mbeki has not produced the type of complete political reform and social transformation needed to make the populace feel it has a say in national affairs.
Officials claim government needs more time to complete its process of political reform, and that criticism of its reform by the West is not useful and possibly counterproductive, since it isolates the regime and prevents engagement between the international community and the government to end targeted sanctions, which the regime claims has wrecked the economy.
To this point, the Mugabe leadership has rhetorically embraced some reforms, such as enacting a new Constitution in 2013 with an expensive Bill of Rights and working with the political opposition, but these are, so far, small steps that could be easily reversed.
In fact, the Mugabe regime has steadfastly refused to prise open its dead man’s grip on electoral machinery or enact any reforms that threaten its 36-year grip on power.
In the meantime, inequality is soaring.
A new class of governing party tycoons, many of whom flaunt their wealth in ostentatious ways, has grown rich on State assets, trade in natural resources, and other concessions.
Some analysts have begun to call Zimbabwe a kind of “mafia State” similar to Cold War-era kleptocracies.
Average people’s anger at this nouveau riche class has erupted into angry helplessness, at a time the regime maintains its grip on power through co-option and force.
And once again, a disorganised, reluctant government is challenged to respond to a tidal surge of destabilising opposition political energy.
The MDC is not challenging not just the Mugabe political establishment but the authority of the governing Zanu PF, and in the most brazen way.
But given that the MDC insists this demo will be peaceful, perhaps Mugabe must be willing and able to temper his hitherto hard-line approach with a degree of resilience and adaptability.
Avoiding an open confrontation with the MDC would not only be a victory for Mugabe but would help him to emerge as a different kind of leader from the one we have come to know who celebrates “kudashurwa” (thrashing) of MDC leaders and supporters — to one who recognises that sometimes accommodation is wise policy because it solves problems, builds trust and can serve the greater good, even as it sometimes runs the risk of being mistaken for weakness.
It remains to be seen if the nonagenarian will compromise or crackdown, anything is possible.
We just have to wait for April 14.