The Big Saturday Read: Citizens’ movement and the resurgence of the repressive state in Zimbabwe
A young man is dragged out of his room, his pair of trousers half done, without shoes. He tries desperately to pull up his trousers, but they won’t allow him. He pleads for mercy. But they don’t listen and they don’t care.
They beat him up viciously with baton sticks as if they were beating an unwelcome intruder.
He falls to the ground, perhaps some self-preservation instinct of a man to make himself small to minimise harm, but they respond by beating him up with even greater intensity. No mercy. He yelps in pain and tries to cover his head to minimise the damage but this does not deter them. They yank him up and continue to beat him up as if they were beating a drum. It’s vicious and brutal.
It’s not fiction. It’s not a piece of drama. It’s a scene in Harare – a young civilian at the receiving end of some brutal beating at the hands of members of the anti-riot squad. These are the images of Zimbabwe which the world has been seeing this week – a reminder of the dark days when the Zimbabwean state has typically turned upon its citizens with intense brutality. The beating happened after commuter omnibus drivers went on strike, protesting against too many roadblocks by police, at which members of the police force extort bribes from them on a daily basis.
Then on Wednesday, Zimbabwe witnessed the #ZimShutDown2016, following a call for a mass stay-away from work. Harare and most cities were deserted. People had heeded the call. There was a heavy police and army presence in towns around the country as well as rural centres like Jerera, where pictures showed scores of police roaming the centre. Social media was down for some time, with users unable to access WhatsApp and most suspected the state had a hand in the breakdown. Service providers reported the breakdown, but unusually, did not say why. People suspected the state was behind it, despite desperate denials.
Efforts by government spin-doctors to downplay the mass stay-away failed. Schools were closed and unpaid for the month of June, civil servants in the health and education sectors led the way and stayed away from work. Government had to deploy the military in public health institutions to provide cover. Apart from the violent clampdown, the state issued several warnings to the public. The instruments of repression were being mobilised. This typical of the Zimbabwean state, reacting like a bully who suddenly panics at the sight of a challenge from an unexpected and unfamiliar source and whose first instinct is to flex muscles and bare teeth in order to frighten with a generous amount of threats.
When the story of this week’s events is told to future generations, its place and significance in the trajectory of Zimbabwean political history will not be lost on historians and keen observers of Zimbabwean politics.
As with most events, on the one hand, it is easy to exaggerate the significance in the heat of the moment, but on the other hand, it is also easy to underestimate their historic character. It is often later, after careful studying and analysing with the benefit of hindsight, looking at events before and after, that seemingly minor moments assume their true historical significance. I believe the events of the last week, beginning with the citizens’ protests in Beitbridge through to the mass stay-away of Wednesday, are a seminal moment in the sense that they demonstrate, for the first time in a long period, a re-awakening of the citizens and a demonstration of their capacity to assert themselves in their capacity as ordinary citizens, not as followers of political parties or organised civil society. For too long, Zimbabweans have appeared to be a docile lot, with an extraordinary capacity to absorb the worst excesses of the Zimbabwean regime without as much as a whimper. Why do Zimbabweans not act? Why are they so comfortable and silent in the face of government excesses and failures? These are some of the questions the world has been asking of Zimbabweans in recent years. This week demonstrated that Zimbabweans citizens have the capacity to take expressive action against the excesses of the regime.
The #ZimShutDown of this week was, in some ways, unique in its galvanising and mobilising effect without the aid or leadership of traditional actors on the political and civil society landscape. For the first time in a long time, the traditional political actors, both in the ruling establishment and the opposition were by-standers in an historic moment championed largely by ordinary citizens. I am careful to say for the first time in a long time principally because it is not the first time this has happened in our polity. The events of 1998 spring to older minds, when Zimbabweans came together in a huge flood of dissent against deteriorating economic conditions. Taking the lead was the then vibrant labour movement, with the ZCTU at the apex, led by Morgan Tsvangirai. Many young Zimbabweans have only known him as an opposition politicians, but at the time, he was a leader of the labour unions. Civil society movement was still then in its nascent stages but those were the moments when organisations such as the National Constitutional Assembly began to assume a leading role in campaigning for political reform under the flagship call for constitutional reforms. For the first time since independence, the people of Zimbabwe heeded the call for a mass stay-away. It was also unique in that many employers backed the call, signalling an interesting milieu ideologies in one moment; a strange mixture of capitalists and socialists.
Lessons from the past
This is not the place to narrate and analyse the historic events of the late 1990s. There are people who are better placed to provide informed narratives and assessments of that era. I challenge and urge colleagues like Brian Kagoro, Tawanda Mutasa, Deprose Muchena, Everjoice Win, Thoko Matshe, Munyaradzi Gwisai among many others of that gallant generation which spearheaded the surge of the civil society movement in the late 1990s to favour us with documented memories of those heady days. I say so because such accounts are a critical part of the national memory. As the new generations of activists chart their paths and confront challenges of their time, they might benefit from those accounts of paths already travelled. What facilitated the achievements of that era and what accounted for any failures? In the absence of those accounts, new generations risk repeating mistakes of old or claiming discoveries where they already exist.
But I also make reference to 1998 so that the present generation of leaders and activists in the citizens’ movement has a wider appreciation of the context within which #ZimShutDown2016 and related activities are taking place. While there are key aspects that distinguish the current citizens’ movement, such as the role and influence of social media, it is by no means an invention of the current generation. It is important to locate it neither as the beginning of history of activism nor the end of it, but as part of an incremental process that has been in motion for a long time and has manifested in various forms and has been prosecuted by various actors at each stage. There is no contest between the new generation leading the citizens’ movement and the older generation of civil and political activists. Rather, it is the same struggle being prosecuted on a different frontier and using different means. Zimbabwe’s post-independence struggle for democratic reform is against a well-established and deeply-entrenched electoral authoritarian regime, this citizens’ movement must be seen in this context as the latest of waves chipping away at a wall which is backed by the military.
While the older generation should be more receptive to the new wave of activism and its leaders and not view them with suspicion, the new generation of activists must also be mindful of and respect history and those who have already been in the trenches.
There might be lessons to be learned from that era, which the present generation can use to avoid old mistakes. This is because I have noticed a tendency on social media, where people demand instant results and sometimes end up utterly deflated and defeated when things don’t happen as quickly as anticipated. Yet if one understands the bigger picture, knowing the origins of this struggle, including its highs and lows, they might have a better appreciation of the incremental nature of the process; indeed, a better appreciation of the fact that the struggle is a slow-cooked dish, not the pre-cooked instant microwave variety.
Catching traditional actors by surprise
An interesting feature of the current citizens’ movement is that it seems to have caught the ruling party, the opposition and traditional civil society by surprise and consequently, none of them have been quite sure of how to react to it. From a political perspective, it is unconventional because it is not coming from the traditional sources of political opposition which in recent years have splintered and suffered a crisis of confidence. From a civil society perspective, it is unconventional in the sense that the movement is not coming from organised civil society, which over the years fell into rigid confines of donor-demarcated programmes. It seems to me that after years of domination of traditional civil and political spaces by formal opposition and civil society institutions, fatigue and frustration set in among them, leading to splits, lethargy and sheer lack of invention of new initiatives to confront the electoral authoritarian regime.
The problem is that the leadership of traditional political parties and organised civil society has not evolved over the same period, while society has changed and its demands and expectations have also changed. Like ZANU PF, opposition parties and organised civil society have not confronted and dealt with succession issues and the culture of entitlement of those in leadership positions. This has resulted in a traffic jam in the leadership of parties and organisations the civil and political spaces, with those in front unwilling and unable to move or give way to new generations or ideas. Traditional political parties and civil society organisations are notoriously hierarchical and exclusionary in the selection of leadership. There is a long queue and new generations or those who did not join the queue are excluded. The parties and organisations are also dominated by the old boy/girl networks which make it almost impossible for any new individuals or ideas to enter their spaces of leadership. Yet, of late, they have not been performing efficiently and this has led to frustrations and loss of confidence both in the opposition parties and organised civil society.
The frustrations with the leadership traffic jam have previously manifested in splits within the opposition. It also explains why we have had new political and civil society formations, even one-man bands with no following. These are persons who aspire to be in leadership but got on the train late and have no chance of ever taking up leadership in the traditional political parties or civil society groups. But they have also been reflected by people turning their backs on politics and political parties. What we are witnessing now in the form of this citizens’ movement, however, is another response to this leadership traffic jam. It is an alternative route which is neither a political organisation nor a civil society organisation in the traditional sense. But it’s objectives and goals are probably indistinguishable from the goals and objectives of the traditional political opposition and organised civil society.
The traditional opposition and organised civil society appear to have struggled to come to terms with this new phenomenon. Do they embrace it? Do they join it? Are they leading it? Are they followers? How exactly do they accommodate this phenomenon which has not emerged from their usual programmes at traditional work-shops. When #ThisFlag movement began a couple of months ago, Mfundo Mlilo wrote a fantastic piece for this platform reflecting on the challenge it posed to traditional thinking and approaches in civil society. The MDC-T has had its own successful demonstrations, while others have stayed away from the marches. However, the mass stay-aways and defiance in recent weeks have taken place outside their usual spaces and there is struggle to understand how to react to it and what it means for them. Both the opposition and civil society groups need to self-introspect thoroughly and reflect on the new phenomenon of the citizens’ movement and consider their role in the changing political and civil landscape.
New challenge for ZANU PF
This unconventional citizens’ movement has also caught ZANU PF by surprise, presenting a new challenge on an unfamiliar front. The old party is used to dealing with the traditional political opposition or organised civil society, which they invariably bundle together as Western-sponsored opposition or regime change agents. The state and ZANU PF have developed a wide array of tools to deal with these traditional opposition in civil and political spaces – through infiltration of political organisations, banning political gatherings and meetings, deploying laws meant for political organisations, propaganda through state media, etc. However, they have not had to deal with a citizens’ movement of this kind, with a large base in social media. This is why they have been confused about how to describe it. Some have attributed it to the MDC and other opposition parties. Others have attributed it to Western embassies bent on sponsoring unrest. Still, there are others who think there are South African elements involved, drawing comparisons between the protest tactics in Zimbabwe and South Africa, such as the burning of tyres in the streets.
It is clear that the regime is currently unsure about the nature of the latest challenge. The term they have settled on for now is that the dissent and activism is being orchestrated by a “Third Force”, even though no-one has given substance to this term to clarify who or what exactly constitutes this force. For the government, there is a sinister force beyond the traditional opposition which they are not equipped to handle. They can’t quite define what it is. They cannot believe that citizens can consolidate and find expression in non-traditional political and civil spaces.
In all this, of course, is a typically stubborn refusal by ZANU PF to acknowledge that the people of Zimbabwe can think for themselves and make their own decisions. For the ZANU PF regime, any resistance to its policies and style of governance cannot be from and by the people of Zimbabwe making independent decisions. Rather, it has to be instigated and influenced by foreign elements, usually the West. This is a very condescending mindset against fellow Zimbabweans. It shows the character of the state, where citizens are like children who need guardians to think and decide for them and if it’s not the government, it has to be another sinister third party doing it on their behalf. Individuals within the state are not regarded as rational beings capable of making their own decisions. The irony is that a government which claims independence and sovereignty of the nation does not believe that the people from whom that sovereignty and authority to govern are derived can make independent decisions to express grievances unless they are influenced by the West. It’s symptomatic of political elites who think that they are the only proper guardians of the nation who are not only smarter but love the country more than every other citizen.
One key factor that distinguishes the current citizens’ movement from similar movements in the past is the availability and popular use of social media. When #This Flag movement started through social media messages by Pastor Evans Mawarire a couple of months ago, it was initially dismissed as “a passing fad”. It was dismissed as nothing more than social media chatter, which would dissipate quickly as people moved on to the next internet fad. There was little appreciation of its capacity to galvanise sentiment and passion among people both in cyber and physical spaces
Soon however, representatives of #ThisFlag movement were engaging directly with authority, one example being a public meeting held with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor, Dr John Mangundya over concerns around the issue of bond notes. That in itself was an indication of a so-called social media-based movement transcending cyberspace and finding recognition and accommodation in physical spaces.
After seemingly dismissing the social media as irrelevant within Zimbabwean political spaces, the government has reacted with panic to the real potential of social media. The Minister of Information, Chris Mushowe, on 7 July 2016 issued a long statement in which he warned what he called “misguided malcontents” who are allegedly misleading people into protests against government. In the statement, Mushowe concedes that government is taking social media seriously: “social media has become an instrument for destroying peaceful and stable nations”. The statement, an amateurish job riddled with mangled grammar and spelling, betrays a sense of paranoia and panic on the part of government, and a complete failure to acknowledge and appreciate the existence of grievances being expressed by citizens.
The day before, on 6th July 2016, PORTRAZ, the telecommunications regulator had issued a long but poorly-constructed warning to social media users. The purpose of the warning is to threaten and scare off social media users against criticising the government. Legally, it is a very weak statement which shows that it was not written by a legal mind. It cites no law and shows complete disregard of the new Constitution which safeguards the right to privacy and freedom of expression. It’s probably the first time that the regulatory body has issued such a statement and that in itself is a serious admission of the force that the system has felt from the citizens’ movement in recent weeks. PORTRAZ warns users that it can access and read their social media conversations, which technical experts have refuted as a complete lie as they have no capacity to do that due to end-to-end user encryption used on WhatsApp. The tactic being employed by PORTRAZ here is not new. In the past, rural voters have been told that there are cameras in the polling station which will detect how one would have voted. They are told to write down the serial numbers of their ballot papers so that the system can check how they would have voted. These are false tactics which are used against rural voters who have no other information to counter it.
However, by contrast one of the key things which social media has done in the Zimbabwean struggle is to empower citizens to fight against such government manipulation though information-sharing networks which have reduced barriers in time and space between citizens across the world. This way, a person in Tsholotsho is communicating with his fellow citizens in Mutare, at Sadza, in London, Sydney or New York and Cape Town, sharing valuable data, information, tools and advice. The propaganda machinery has faced serious challenges from social media because citizens are able to instantly scrutinise, challenge, and dismiss the lies and fabrications in the state media. Each morning, Zimbabweans scour the papers, pick stories from all media and dissect them, showing absurdities and exposing weaknesses and contradictions in propaganda to a wider audience. Citizens no longer have to rely on what the papers tell them. They also listen to what fellow citizens are saying through social media. Citizens no longer have to wait for the media to share information, as there has been an upsurge in citizen journalism with social media users sharing videos and uploading them by the second. By the time the traditional media shows its images and videos, they would have long circulated among the people through social media. It is truly amazing to see the way information is passed and spread across wider field on via Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp messages. Oft-times I have been amazed as I have received my own work which I would have shared: it will be coming from multiple sources with the hour, itself a demonstration of the power of social media, which the Zimbabwean state and opposition have until now underestimated as they have focused on the traditional spaces. Hence when the government misrepresents the law, lawyers instantly challenge it and respond through social media, providing a counter-view and in the process empowering other users.
Likewise, when the government sends warnings based on false and misleading technical reasoning, technical experts challenge it and reassure users that the government is not telling the truth or give users tools to counter the problem. It was fascinating how when social media was down in Zimbabwe on #ZimShutDown2016, Zimbabweans around the world very quickly spread information about how Zimbabweans at home could get around this technical glitch by using VPN. Users supplied the necessary codes and instructions of how to remain connected. The government later denied that they had fiddled with social media networks, but by then people had already found a way around the problem thanks to their peers who were quick to provide alternative solutions. This citizenship solidarity and information sharing network is one aspect which the regime is unprepared for. The only alternative at the moment is to use scare-tactics and threaten people with dire consequences. The irony is that these scare-tactics which the government is using against social media are reminiscent of the scare-tactics used by the colonial regime against the nationalists during their own struggle for independence in the 1970s.
The likelihood is that Zimbabwe will follow Russia’s path and enact laws which specifically target social media users. The template for such laws already exists in Putin’s Russia, where according to the Sova Centre, a research group, 200 people were convicted for online posts with nearly a quarter being sent to jail. This week, the law raised the level of jail sentences. These crackdowns are symptomatic of how authoritarian regimes react to dissent. They are increasingly targeting online spaces such as social media because they are new spaces of political and civil activism which traditional laws and other instruments of repression are not equipped to deal with. It is fair to predict that the Zimbabwean government will be fast-tracking a law on social media usage based on the Russian template and there will be a number of quick convictions and jail sentences against users designed as examples to the rest of the population. While there are legitimate concerns in any society over hate speech, violence and such vile acts as “revenge porn” which need prevention, the likelihood is that such a law will be used to target political opponents and dissenting citizens. They will use those perfectly legitimate concerns to introduce such a law, but in reality the majority of victims will be political opponents.
The government has also resorted to typical strategies of exclusion. As Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben wrote, a pre-occupation of politics is the classification between inclusion and exclusion of citizens; between those forms of life which the sovereign will give protection and those that are excluded from such protection. He uses the notion of the Homo Sacer, to describe the person who is banished into the so-called ‘zones of exception’ where he is virtually unprotected and unworthy of protection from the sovereign authority. It’s the politics of exclusion where those deemed to be citizens are protected, while the excluded are deserving of no protection – they are dehumanised. This dehumanisation makes it easier for those charged with the job of getting rid of them. The Homo Sacer can be assaulted, raped, violated, killed and there will be no punishment for perpetrators. Instead, they are protected by law and are sometimes rewarded. This is why the presidential amnesty is so liberally used to protect citizens who carry out these heinous acts against those deemed unworthy of protection.
Within the Zimbabwean political context, the Homo Sacer is a person who opposes or dissents from ZANU PF. Zimbabwe’s Homo Sacer is identified by the labels ascribed to them and by far the most common label of exclusion is “sell-out”. To be a “sell-out” is to be defined as the worst form of being within the Zimbabwean political space. You are banished to the margins and are deemed worthy of the death sentence. Indeed, the label of a “sell-out” was a death sentence during the days of the liberation struggle. So pervasive is the label of “sell-out” as a term of exclusion and banishment that it is no longer exclusive to ZANU PF but its use pervades all political and civil spaces, including the opposition and organised civil society. To be classified as a “sell-out” symbolises the end of one’s credibility and career and in many ways, one’s livelihood.
In more recent years, a term that is close to “sell-out” is to be labelled a “regime change agent”. This term has been used liberally against any person who opposes or is deemed to oppose ZANU PF. Like a “sell-out” a “regime change agent” is regarded with contempt in ZANU PF circles and deserves the worst treatment and punishment. Another term of exclusion is “dissident”. It was used liberally in the 1980s during Gukurahundi and was the principal justification for the repression and unlawful killings and torture that took place during that dark chapter. It has not been used much since the late 1980s but worryingly it has come into use again in recent months. President Mugabe used it while warning war veterans who have been raising questions over the presidential succession race. And in recent days, Higher Education Minister has used the term “crude terrorists” as a description for persons leading the citizens’ movement. The Information Minister has referred to dissenters as “misguided malcontents”.
These terms of exclusion are dangerous and reckless as they are often a prelude to atrocities against perceived opponents, as the Rwandan Genocide showed, where targeted communities were continuously labelled “cockroaches” by the media, itself a label of dehumanisation which fuelled the rampant killings. It is therefore important to monitor how this language of exclusion and banishment evolves in the coming weeks. These are labels of dehumanisation intended to demonstrate that a life is not worthy of any protection or recognition. It is the kind of hate speech which is prohibited by the Constitution for good reason because it fuels atrocities. It is therefore irresponsible for government, Ministers and state media to employ these labels of exclusion and dehumanisation.
Apart from these labels, the most common form of banishment and exclusion is through criminalisation of behaviour and sending people to jail. Jail is the modern-day space of banishment and exclusion. Banishment is not new to African society and neither is it a colonial invention. A study of Chinua Achebe’s classic, Things Fall Apart shows how the tragic hero of the novel, Okonkwo was banished to his mother’s village for seven years after he had committed an abomination in his village. Okonkwo, a proud man who had worked hard for his achievements in life, was not happy with the banishment and spent a miserable seven years at his mother’s village before he returned to Umuaro. In today’s politics, criminalisation of political opponents and sending them to jail, or the mere threat of such punishment are common ways of banishment and keeping control of political space. This explains the stern warnings of criminal sanctions issued by the Information Minister Chris Mushowe, PORTRAZ, the telecommunications regulator, the police spokesperson, Charity Charamba and even the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe, which has also warned broadcasters. These warnings are designed to intimidate and silence the citizens. It is the repressive state saying to citizens: “If you continue criticising us we will banish you by sending you to jail”. This is the repressive state resorting to crude strategies and tactics to deal with a phenomenon that it is ill-equipped to deal with.
The rural frontier
One issue that remains critical in the Zimbabwean political and civil society landscape is the rural frontier. For a long time, it has been ZANU PF’s stronghold. The 2012 census showed that 67% of the population is rural, which means urban areas host only 33% of the population. Since electoral politics is a numbers game, ZANU PF’s political strategies are centred on retaining control of the rural constituency. Traditional opposition parties and organised civil society have always done very well in urban areas, as shown by the MDC’s success in Harare, Bulawayo and other urban areas. The new citizens’ movement which has made waves in recent weeks has been concentrated in the urban areas. In this regard therefore, it is not very different from the traditional political opposition and organised civil society. The civil and political spaces they are occupying are well-trodden paths. The novelty is in the use of social media and cross-party appeal arising from the issues around which the citizens’ movement is built. However, like the traditional actors in politics and organised civil society, they are yet to crack the rural constituency. There is a chance that social media platforms like WhatsApp might make in-roads in the rural constituency, but the response of the state machinery, through criminalisation, warnings, threats and false claims that they can see what social media users are doing are likely to affect the impact of social media. ZANU PF only has to trigger its rural machinery of intimidation and the ever-fearful and vulnerable population will be cowed into submission.
Resurgence of the repressive state
A few months ago, I wrote in these pages on how the Zimbabwean state inherited and perfected the structures and instruments of repression from the colonial state http://alexmagaisa.com/big-saturday-read-zimbabwe-inherited-perfected-repressive-state/ In that article, I demonstrated that the trademark response of the political elites to their control of the state has been to deploy repressive instruments, including violence, restrictive laws, criminalisation and exclusion. It is pertinent that in all the statements from state authorities, they make reference to “subversive activities”, ironically the same language that was used by the Smith regime against the nationalists when they were fighting for independence in the 1970s.
It is clear that the current state is a mirror image of the colonial state. The same methods and strategies are being deployed against citizens. When Welshman Ncube analysed the continuities between the colonial and post-independence state, he found that there had been no effort whatsoever to dismantle the repressive state. Ncube wrote: “the culture of the Rhodesian legal system was one of extreme brutality in both content and methods of law enforcement”. This was echoed by Jonathan Moyo, who wrote at the time: “At independence, the Zimbabwean nationalist leadership wittingly or unwittingly failed to broaden democracy but embraced the oppressive institutions and legal instruments such as the Rhodesian-imposed state of emergency which took ten years to be lifted.” This was in the late 1980s at a time when ZANU PF was trying to impose the one-party state but the same arguments remain applicable today and if anything the repressive state has become stronger and more ruthless. The current reaction of the Zimbabwean government to the citizens’ protests has attracted the same reaction which is characterized by intolerance, violence and repression.
During the first ten years of independence, the government maintained a state of emergency, again inherited from the Rhodesian state. When asked to justify the state of emergency in Parliament, the then Minister of Home Affairs, Herbert Ushewokunze stated: “Clearly, we are not going to defend the state of emergency. It is the state of emergency which is going to defend us. A state of emergency is something that has in itself the reasons for its existence. An emergency does not ask for discussion but for action” (Parliamentary debate, quoted in Weitzer). The declaration of a public emergency remains an instrument open to government should the protests intensify. During a public emergency, some rights protected in the Declaration of Rights are suspended and government essentially rules by decree. This would be an extreme measure, but given the escalation of poverty and pressures upon the people, if the protests persist, this state will resort to such a declaration. The statements we are seeing are a prelude to more extreme measures.
Going forward, we are likely to see more arrests of activists in the citizens’ movement. Ordinary members of the public will also be arrested and prosecuted as examples to others. There will also be new laws to criminalise conduct on social media and other similar spaces. There will be further statements and warnings from the coercive elements of the state, all designed to deter and scare people from using social media to challenge government. In this regard, the citizens’ movement will find that its struggle is really not very different from the struggle which the traditional opposition parties and organized civil society have faced in the past. The question is whether this new citizens’ movement has devised new tools to overcome or get around these impediments. In other words, are the citizens prepared to defend their leaders and their rights in a manner that is different from how traditional opposition parties and organised civil society have done in the past?
All this comes against the background of a new-found romance between ZANU PF and some Western countries, after years of hostilities. They have to be careful as they risk sponsoring the repression of ordinary people. It is true that states are motivated by self-interest in international relations, but they should be careful not to sacrifice ordinary Zimbabweans on the altar of expediency. Chinamasa is going around the world with a begging bowl, pleading for accommodation. He will probably get a deal for settling debt arrears from the IMF and other IFIs, but it would be a complete disaster if that relief were employed to reaffirm and strengthen repression. The international community has a moral obligation to ensure that the Zimbabwean state is restrained and does not react as it has done in the past, with Gukurahundi in the 1980s and the June 27 run-off election violence being clear examples of what it is capable of doing against ordinary citizens.
Zimbabwe is going through a difficult phase and things are likely to get worse in the next few months. And as people show their dissent, as they are already doing, the instruments of repression will be sharpened and we are already witnessing the beginning of that phase of repression with the strongly-worded warnings from Ministers and regulatory authorities.
This will be a tough struggle. Those fronting the citizens struggle must not underestimate the challenge they are facing. They must not disrespect those who have walked this path before because the impediments will be the same. The regime is the same. It does not change. Already it is showing typical characteristics. As I have already said, the struggle for a better Zimbabwe is not is not an instant meal. Rather, it is a slow-cooked dish. It will take time. Patience is needed in abundance. The regime will respond as it has done before, perhaps even more viciously. This is a regime that learnt its strategies and methods from a repressive colonial regime and learnt to perfect those strategies and methods. It will be a long, hard night.