By Tafi Mhaka
A casual attempt to buy toothpaste and camphor cream two weeks ago, on a Sunday morning, was welcomed by demonstrators gathered outside Dischem Pharmacy in Midrand, Johannesburg.
Undeterred by the passionate protesters and quite determined to get my shopping done before going to the gym up the road, I moved closer to the store, so I could get a good look at what was really going on.
There, a vocal group of roughly 12 men and women, dressed in bright red outfits, were singing and dancing near the entrance to Dischem. I couldn’t tell if the animated protesters were Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) representatives, Dischem staff members or local trade union members.
But this all-too common sight of industrial action had compelled Dischem management to shut its doors for a while. And as far as I could see, nobody seemed surprised, disturbed or annoyed by the toyi-toying. Life at Carlswald Shopping Mall went on without a care in the world.
That’s because South Africa is the protest capital of the world. From the widely reported, deadly Marikana protest, to small, spontaneous, daily service delivery demonstrations held in townships and slums across Msanzi every day, right through to massive fees must fall demonstrations, South Africans hold roughly 2000 protests a year.
This is democracy in action.
This is how ordinary, marginalised people can exercise power in a democracy, and take the African bull, if you will, right by the horns, and stand up for their constitutional rights.
We all have the right to have three meals a day, clean water, electricity, safe roads, decent healthcare facilities, an excellent education and well-paid jobs.
We all have the right to live well, and certainly have the constitutional right stand up against corruption, brutality, social injustices and poor governance under Zanu-PF.
Zimbabweans could learn from South Africans.
A ZRP officer killed Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) newspaper vendor, Zephaniah Nhamo, near the Seke fly-over in downtown Harare on February 22, yet nobody has marched on behalf of the deceased and his family and demanded an end to police violence.
(Nobody has sacrificed a few hours out marching on the streets of Bulawayo, Harare or Mutare and put his or her life on the line for Nhamo.)
A feeble apology for Nhamo’s death can hardly assist his family and make up for 38 years of deplorable policing throughout Zimbabwe.
Remember how, in September 2016, police officers thrashed Esther Mutsigiri, Gladys Musindo and Beatrice Rutsvara for exercising their constitutional right to march at a National Electoral Reform Agenda (NERA) demonstration held in Glen View?
Remember how the women were tortured in custody and left with deeply lacerated buttocks? Remember that awful and bloodcurdling episode?
Remember how Morgan Tsvangirai and Lovemore Madhuku were assaulted in police custody in March 2007? An apology will never make up for the spate of human rights abuses under the command of unprofessional officers since 1980.
People must organise marches against Commissioner Godwin Matanga, a 36-year veteran ZRP police officer, à la Morgan Tsvangirai, circa 1988, and vigorously test the democratic goodwill President Emmerson Mnangagwa has pledged since November.
We must march and test this democracy until the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) is repealed and people can gather unreservedly and police violence is minimised. We must march until the electoral and media landscapes undergo substantial reform.
And Mnangagwa must understand that we, the people, are Zimbabwe, and we expect collective respect and proper policing and protection from extra-legal activities.
We must also march against former commissioner Augustine Chihuri and organise a class action against him on behalf of all of the people beaten and tortured or killed under his command.
We must see that Chihuri is locked up in Chikurubi Maximum Prison and have the sweet pleasure of seeing him paying for his many sins against society while clad in prison garb.
Yet, that might never happen in our lifetime: we never seem to stand up for our rights, for our democracy, for our history, for heroes like Joshua Nkomo, for our everyday heroes like Nhamo.
We never seem to stand up for the little man on the street, but unendingly fight for dubious ethnic champions whenever an election arises.
We never seem to want to be heard and think democracy is only about voting every five years and respectfully waiting on our elders to act for us all of the time.
But people like Mnangagwa and Home Affairs minister Obert Mpofu, two exceedingly hardened and self-centred elders who prey on cultural associations, cultural beliefs and cultural conditioning to conservative inaction, two men who avoid accountability for possible economic and human rights transgressions, want to be celebrated and feared and much less loved for their magnanimous deeds, do not deserve our respect.
You can save that respect for your mother and father and learn to speak truth to power and march at the drop of a hat.
Jacob Zuma would never have introduced subsidised free higher education for poor and working class students (that is, students whose parents earn less than R350 00 a year) on December 16, 2016, if loud demonstrations had not rocked universities across South Africa.
And mining giant Lonmin plc would never have improved working conditions for its workers, if 34 mineworkers, who had gone on an unprotected strike at Marikana mine, were not killed on August 12, 2012.
So let us stand up for the much-criticised street vendors and education-starved NUST students.
Let us march for the enactment of electoral and media rights and demand conditions with which free and fair elections can be held.
Let us demand the right to live without fear of torture at the hands of faceless policemen and violent deaths through government issued silver bullets.
We must demonstrate and display the kind of dynamic togetherness that will shake Mnangagwa and his administration to the core and bring us closer to realising a non-discriminatory dispensation.
We must honour Zephaniah Nhamo and reclaim our Zimbabwe.
We must show Mnangagwa and Mpofu that: we are Zimbabwe.