#ZimbabweanLivesMatter: Activists unite against government abuses

Three photos published on social media as part of the #SoloDemo movement organized by Zimbabweans
Three photos published on social media as part of the #SoloDemo movement organized by Zimbabweans

The Zimbabwean government’s crackdown on activists sparked a social media movement that gained international attention at the end of July. Using the hashtag #ZimbabweanLivesMatter, citizens are coming together to draw attention to human rights abuses and demand an end to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s presidency.

On July 31, more than 60 people were arrested in a protest against President Mnangagwa, according to Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR). The protests began peacefully with demonstrators rallying to decry corruption and human rights abuses in the country but the government cracked down swiftly.

To denounce the arrests, activists started using #ZimbabweanLivesMatter on social media. The hashtag gained international momentum when celebrities like the rapper Ice Cube and actress Pearl Thusi spread the hashtag and shared information related to the crisis in Zimbabwe.

Rapper Ice Cube shared these series of tweets with the caption, “Bullies in blue all over the earth must be stopped.” The thread lists recent abductions and abuses with photos attached.

The hashtag’s origins

Writer Tsitsi Dangarembga was among those arrested on July 31. Earlier that morning, Dangarembga had learned that she was nominated for the UK Booker Prize for her book 'This Mournable Body'. The book chronicles a post-independence Zimbabwe and the systemic suffering in the country. 

Several days after her release, Dangarembga took to social media. On August 5, she called on Zimbabweans to stage their own “solo” protests, marching around their neighbourhoods with signs and Zimbabwe flags. Dangarembga encouraged people to share photos of their individual acts of protest on social media, tagging #ZimbabweanLivesMatter. 

Author and screenwriter Tsitsi Dangrembga shared ideas and guidelines on Twitter for Zimbabweans to hold solo protests. Dangrembga warned that “walking in your neighbourhood carries risk of arrest.”

A Tweet thread shows a collection of images from some of the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter solo protestors. To see all images, click on the Tweet

With the recent arrests, opponents have also accused the government of suppressing political opposition and the free press. Hopewell Chin’ono, an investigative journalist, and Jacob Ngarivhume, leader of the political group Transform Zimbabwe, still remain in government custody after helping organise anti-government protests. Zimbabwe’s high court denied bail to Chin’ono on August 6.

In this video, shared on Twitter by Alex Magaisa on August 13, a man who appears to be Chin'ono is filmed in his prison jumper. His ankles are chained together.

Documenting alleged abductions and abuses

Beyond widespread protests both in the streets and online, the hashtag has been used to document alleged abductions and abuses, particularly those targeting activists and their families. Noxolo Maphose, the niece of political activist Josphat Mzaca Ngulube, disappeared on the morning of August 7. When she reappeared that evening, she alleges that she was abducted, beaten and sexually assaulted by state agents looking for her uncle. In this video, posted with #ZimbabweanLivesMatter, she recounts the trauma.

This video posted on the night of August 7 records Noxolo Maphose when she reappeared after state agents looking for her uncle allegedly abducted her.

Some within the military are using the hashtag to stand up against Mnangagwa’s government, albeit anonymously. In this video, a soldier (whose identity could not be confirmed) declares: “The time to liberate Zimbabwe has come.” 

A man with a blurred face claiming to be a soldier declares his allegiance to the people of Zimbabwe in an anonymous video. "Our duty is to defend Zimbabwe, not ZANU-PF. We should not be following repressive unconstitutional orders. Let us not protect corrupt politicians."  Video published August 8 on Twitter by Team Pachedu, an account run by a network of Zimbabwean citizens.

President aims to “flush out” dissenters

Zimbabwe’s government denies allegations of wrongdoing. “Neither has there been any abduction or 'war' on citizens,” said government spokesperson Nick Mangwana in a statement. In an address to the nation on August 4, Mnangagwa promised to "flush out" dissenters, who he claimed are only "a few rogue Zimbabweans" in "league with foreign detractors".

Amid accusations of government corruption, currency inflation has reached triple digits. The combination of economic recession, severe drought, and the Covid-19 pandemic has crippled the country. In Zimbabwe, approximately 8.6 million people, or 60% of the total population will suffer from food insecurity by the end of 2020, according to the United Nations Food Programme. There are currently 4,818 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 104 deaths, although this is likely an underestimate due to low levels of testing.

Article by Sophie Stuber