New Internationalist

What hope a Zimbabwean uprising?

Since the fall of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben AliZine El Abidine Ben Ali, and with the same fate possibly awaiting President Qadafi in Libya, where thousands have already died, hopes have been raised amongst some Zimbabweans: there are a lot of people who believe it can done; that we can organize a successful uprising and unseat President Mugabe.

Zimbabwe vigil, by Ben Sutherland


Several online groups have been formed, such as The Zimbabwe Protest Group, Zimbabwe Million Citizen March and others, and they all believe it can be done in Zimbabwe. But I do not think so: a day before the launch of the government’s anti-sanctions campaign, a protest against Mugabe was organized and fewer than 50 people turned up.

There are other reasons why I think the removal of Mugabe by popular uprising is not possible:

Firstly, Mugabe has instilled fear into the citizens of Zimbabwe; so much so that just the thought of going out onto the street sends shivers down the spine of the most courageous of us. At this moment, riot police patrol the streets – a constant reminder of what Mugabe could do if ever there was an uprising. The people of Matebeland know what Mugabe can do: 20,000 were killed during the Gukurahundi (the mass slaughter of Ndebele people and a few Shona people in the1980s as a way of forcing Mugabe’s vision of a one-party state). The rest of the country experienced shocking violence in the run-up to the 2008 presidential run-off. As I write this, Munyaradzi Gwisai, who heads the International Socialist Organization, and six others are locked up. The charge is treason, punishable by death. Their ‘crime’? They organized a community meeting at which they showed videos of the Egyptian uprising. The agenda of the meeting was ‘The revolt in Egypt and Tunisia – what lessons can be learnt for the working class in Zimbabwe and Africa?’ That is not treason and everyone, including Mugabe’s people, knows that. But  fear has to be instilled into the hearts of those who are thinking of organizing an uprising and Mugabe knows it will work.

Then there is the use of propaganda: Mugabe and his cronies are making a lot of noise about what they term ‘illegal sanctions’ against the people of Zimbabwe. An anti-sanctions campaign was launched, with official reports that more than a million people attended the launch. Independent reports, however, put the figure at about 20,000. We know that there are no blanket sanctions on the country, only on certain individuals in the Mugabe camp who are responsible for human rights abuses. We know that most of the people who were at the launch were forced to attend and were bussed in from various parts of the country. We know that many businesses in and around Harare were forced to close shop for the day and attend the anti-sanctions campaign. Such a display by the Mugabe camp can shake the resolve of many people.

Finally, Zimbabweans do not have a unifying factor: there seems to be an unrealistic belief that Zimbabwe can do its own Egypt and overthrow Robert Mugabe. The main problem is that everyone is saying that ‘the people’ will do it instead of ‘I’ will do it. What has to be realized is that the countries that have risen in strength against their dictators – Tunisia, Egypt, Libya – have one thing in common: their religion is Islam. Their religious practices include daily prayers (salat), fasting during Ramadan (sawm), almsgiving (zakat), and the pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj) at least once in a lifetime. Other important concepts include jihad, Islamic law and jurisprudence. The way their religion is structured makes them as one and they will rise as one if a cause is identified. They all came out in their millions and overthrew Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. In Libya, as thousands were being gunned down, they continued to pour onto the streets.

In our own country, Zimbabwe, what do we have that binds us together as a people? Our adopted religion, Christianity, is nothing more than a book club. Our only hope lies in a free and fair election monitored by the international community.

Photo by: Ben Sutherland under a CC Licence.

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