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Zimbabwe Opposition Plans Protests

Government nerves jangle as Movement for Democratic Change calls for a summer of discontent.
By Emeldah Gomo
Undeterred by government threats, the opposition plans to hold mass protests in June or July over the country’s deepening social, political and economic crisis, which has forced the majority of the population into abject poverty.

A top official from Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, told IWPR after the party's recent national council meeting that the ruling ZANU PF party needs to brace itself for the biggest street protests Zimbabwe has seen since independence more than a quarter century ago.

The official said he believed that most Zimbabweans, who are struggling to survive in a country where official inflation has reached nearly 1,000 per cent, will heed the call for the demonstrations.

"The people are suffering. Some can't even afford a meal a day," he said. "Every Zimbabwean is angry with the government as prices continue to skyrocket. I am

telling you that the worst is to come for the government in three to four months time as people march in the streets against them.

"This time, no amount of intimidation will work. The government can threaten all it wants. That will not stop people. By that time, things will be worse."

The official said the strategic plans for the mass action were being laid, with “the people” already being mobilised to ensure the demonstrations will be successful.

Tsvangirai himself said, "Since the MDC came into existence, Mugabe has subjected us to all kinds of torture, and his officials have even threatened to physically eliminate us. But we are not moved, and mobilisation for mass action is surely underway."

To demonstrate his seriousness, Tsvangirai has said that this time he will lead the mass protests from the front. Tsvangirai and other MDC leaders have been widely accused over the past five years of inciting "the people" to lead from the front, with the leaders at the rear ready to pick up the perks of office.

"I promise to lead from the front. I promise to use all available resources and willpower to see off the tyranny in Zimbabwe we suffer under today," said Tsvangirai to more than 15,000 of his supporters at the party's national congress last month.

Linda Murehwa, a Harare resident, battling with her budget for April after receiving her March salary of the equivalent of 60 US dollars, wondered why the MDC was scheduling the demonstrations for months away when people were ready for them now.

"We were hoping that the demonstrations would be held soon. Why wait four months?" she asked. "This time we will come out in full force. Whether we get beaten up or we get arrested, it doesn't matter because we are already dying slowly."

Senior government and Zanu PF officials have in the past weeks made threatening statements against anyone planning to participate in mass protests against President Robert Mugabe, 82, his government and repressive organs of state such as the police, army and Central Intelligence Organisation.

Mugabe himself warned Tsvangirai that he would be "dicing with death" if he tried to take power through street protests. Mugabe went on, "If a person wants to invite his own death, let him go ahead … If you want an excuse for being killed, be my guest and go into the streets and demonstrate."

Tsvangirai responded by telling a rally in Chitungwiza, a large suburb to the south of Harare, "I am prepared to die in order to liberate the people of Zimbabwe from ZANU PF's misrule.

"Who are you, Mugabe, to talk about the life or death of an individual? Are you God? Even if I am killed, one thing is certain - all dictators, just like other people, will die. If I die first I will be waiting for you in Heaven and I will ask you if you managed to improve the lives of Zimbabweans."

Zanu PF's secretary for information Nathan Shamuyarira and top political commissar Elliot Manyika warned, "ZANU PF alone has the gruelling experience of war and strongly urges the armchair talkers to shut up. War is not like a picnic or a dinner party: it is blood, sweat, injuries and death."

Manyika equated Tsvangirai's call for mass action to a call for war against the Mugabe government, while State Security Minister Didymus Mutasa, who oversees the much-feared Central Intelligence Organisation, said the government would crush any mass protests and the MDC leader would be shot.

The growing panic in the government as the MDC prepares for mass action comes at a time when the country's economy has virtually collapsed. Health care is unaffordable to the majority. Education standards have deteriorated drastically, and food shortages and mass hunger are so great that the population is more restive than at any time since independence in 1980. There are acute shortages of petrol. Electricity and water cuts are frequent. Rubbish collection and road repair services have collapsed. Zimbabwe's women have the shortest lifespan in the world, just 34 years on average, says a new report by the World Health Organisation (the life expectancy of a woman in Zimbabwe was 63 just sixteen years ago, according to WHO).

Past MDC calls for mass action have flopped, but most political analysts believe that this time popular sentiment has reached a critical point and that the population is geared up for street protest. The government is preparing for insurrection. Security has been beefed up and the number of police and army roadblocks in cities and along major highways has greatly increased. "We are on the brink, and anyone who thinks the political situation is manageable at this rate of economic deterioration is going to be shocked," said John Makumbe, a political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe

Emeldah Gomo is the pseudonym of an IWPR contributor in Zimbabwe.

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