ZIMBABWE

Huge anti-Mugabe protests take place... without police repression

Protestors continue down Julius Nyerere Way in Harare, Zimbabwe on April 14, 2016. (Photo by Lynette N. Manzini)
Protestors continue down Julius Nyerere Way in Harare, Zimbabwe on April 14, 2016. (Photo by Lynette N. Manzini)

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Thousands of people filled the streets of the Zimbabwean capital on Thursday in the largest protest against authoritarian President Robert Mugabe in nearly a decade. And for the first time in their memories, protestors did not face police or military repression.

As riot police stood by, supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) called for the “dignified exit” of the president, who’s been in power since 1980.

The actual number of protestors was contested—some sources estimated 2,000 while activists reported 10,000. But everyone agreed that thousands had turned out to protest, except the state-controlled paper, which called the event a flop.

“Since protestors saw the police acting non-violently, the next protest will be even bigger”

Elias Mambo is a freelance journalist who attended the protests.

The most surprising thing about this protest is that nobody was beaten or threatened. That was a surprise for every Zimbabwean, because since we got our independence, this is the first time that police have simply peacefully monitored an opposition protest.

This is because a day before the protest, the High Court ruled to allow it. It was a surprising ruling, but it upheld Zimbabwe’s new constitution [from 2013], which outlaws police and military from stopping demonstrations.

People were nervous about coming to the protests today because they didn’t know how the police would react. But now that they saw the police were respecting the constitution, the next one will be even bigger. The Mugabe government may have trouble stopping these protests now that the high court set a precedent of allowing them. The leader of the MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai, said there would be more to come.

'Zimbabweans are united over the economic situation'

This protest was initiated by the MDC, but I most of the marchers were just regular, apolitical people. Zimbabweans are united on one thing: the extent of poverty and joblessness. Zimbabwe’s liquidity crisis has deepened, the economy is going down and people can’t afford basic goods.

Unemployment rates are high and many companies have been shutting their doors, especially due to the indigenization policy [Editor’s note: This law, passed in 2008, required companies to transfer majority shares to black Zimbabweans. Several days ago, President Mugabe admitted that the policy may be re-considered because it is discouraging foreign investment].

Among the protestors, there were some very old people, handicapped people and women with babies. It’s a sign that people were expecting a peaceful protest.

“We went from Africa’s bread basket to Africa’s basket case”

Lynette Manzini is a freelance journalist who attended the protest. She spoke with many protesters.

People were marching, singing and jubilating but many said that they were going hungry—the politics of the stomach are the strongest, after all. Another woman told me that her college degrees are nothing but hanging certificates on the wall because there are no jobs. All these people are blaming the government, they say “we used to be the breadbasket of Africa, now we are the basket case”. They are demanding that Mugabe provide the jobs that he promised during his campaign. They are also angry after Mugabe announced that $15 billion in diamond money went missing—they say, “how can that have happened on your watch?”

I saw activists who were calling the president “clueless Mugabe” openly and calling for his “dignified exit” from power. They never would have dared to do this in the past. There was a clear message to the authorities.

"The placards say it all", according to journalist Lynette Manzini, who took this photo.