By Bridget Mananavire
Large crowds thronged Harare’s central business district yesterday as increasingly restless Zimbabweans, including unemployed university graduates who are having to eke out a difficult living as street vendors, marched against the country’s dying economy and the government’s imminent introduction of bond notes to try and mitigate severe cash shortages.
And as had been expected, the panicking Zanu PF government responded to the peaceful protests by unleashing trigger-happy riot police to attack and teargas the demonstrators and journalists who were covering the successful marches which had been cleared by the courts.
Angry protesters who spoke to the Daily News invariably described the unprovoked attacks by the police as “lunacy of the highest order” and “typical barbarism” by authorities who have also been cracking down mercilessly on disaffected war veterans who served divorce papers on President Robert Mugabe last week.
“I’m very angry with the actions of these hired dogs (police). This is lunacy of the highest order, particularly when one takes into account the fact that this is state-sanctioned savagery.
“It’s even worse if you also factor in the fact that the peaceful marches had been sanctioned by the High Court and police had also agreed to let both the bond notes protest and the demonstration by jobless graduates go ahead,” said a protester who was spotting a black eye from the assaults by the manic cops.
Scores of people demonstrated against bond notes and Mugabe’s failure to fullfil his 2013 election campaign promise to create 2,2 million jobs. – Pics: Freedom Mashava
A number of journalists covering the peaceful protests, which ended with petitions being presented at Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa’s offices, were also brutally assaulted — with some of them having their still and television cameras smashed by the gun-toting police.
Among the media people who were either beaten or harassed by the cops were the BBC’s Tendai Musiya, Haru Mutasa of Al Jazeera, photographer Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, Tony Manyangadze and the Daily News’ own reporter on the ground, Bridget Mananavire.
Contacted for comment, police spokesperson Charity Charamba said she was yet to be briefed on what had transpired, as well as the assaults and random acts of harassment.
Such was the complete lack of willingness to be reasonable on the part of the fearful authorities that police prevented the marching unemployed graduates from leaving their petition at Parliament, as teargas and water cannons broke the march before they reached the legislature.
Mugabe and Zanu PF, in power for 36 uninterrupted years, are facing their biggest challenge to their rule, which ordinary Zimbabweans say has been disastrous.
While police were ruthlessly beating up protesters, Mugabe was holding a crisis politburo meeting at the Zanu PF headquarters to try and heal growing rifts within the ruling party, which insiders say is a result of the nonagenarian failing to name a successor.
“We have shown the power of the citizens today. We expect the government to respond to our demands,” said the spokesperson of pressure group Tajamuka/Sesjikile, Promise Mkwananzi, who was among the organisers of the bond notes demonstration.
“This is just a start. As we said, we will build and escalate the demos as we draw close to our August 31 deadline for Mugabe to step down. We want to warn the police against acting unlawfully and brutally towards peaceful citizens who have permission to express their legitimate concerns against the government.
“We are not going to stop here now and there is no more turning back. Mugabe and his government need to step aside and allow citizens to rebuild their country,” Mkwananzi added.
He also claimed that the government had allegedly issued a communiqué at all airports and borders, ordering his arrest.
Tajamuka/Sesjikile has been gaining a considerable following among long-suffering Zimbabweans after it teamed up with activist cleric, Evan Mawarire, to organise a crippling stay-away last month which was heeded by tens of thousands of workers who boycotted work.
Yesterday the group was joined in solidarity by opposition political parties and civic groups which had a multi-racial dynamic to it, with some among the crowd carrying crosses and placards lamenting the death of Mugabe’s first wife, Sally.
The protesters began marching in downtown Harare along Robert Mugabe Road, before turning into Fourth Street towards Chinamasa’s office, near Causeway Post Office.
Then suddenly, the cops pounced on the thousands of unsuspecting protesters as they left Chinamasa’s office — creating both panic and pandemonium, as both motorists and passers-by were caught up in the crossfire.
“First and foremost, the huge crowd that took part in the protest signals that the idea for a revolution is ripe. There is nothing Mugabe and his minions can do to stop this revolution,” said new Occupy Africa Unity Square leader Patson Dzamara, whose brother, Itai was abducted by suspected State agents 17 months ago.
“I am sure this has sent a clear message to Mugabe and his surrogates that Zimbabweans are sick and tired of their tomfoolery and they want their country back. We know that they are afraid of the citizens.
“This knee-jerk reaction doesn’t at all move us. We are not afraid. We have made our minds up and nothing can stand in our way.
“In fact all this strengthens our resolve to fight for a better Zimbabwe. We are certainly prepared to take bullets for Zimbabwe. They may arrest or beat us up but they can never arrest or beat an idea whose time has come.
“They are panicking and their levels of paranoia are very high as a result of the frustration and anger of citizens. Zimbabweans have tolerated them for a long time but now they can’t take it anymore,” Dzamara added.
Transform Zimbabwe (TZ) leader, Jacob Ngaribvume — who filed an application seeking the High Court clearance to stage the bond notes demonstration — gave Chinamasa an ultimatum to act on the petition or face the wrath of the people.
“We have given them a timeline to address our concerns, if they do not respond we will be back. Why does government through Chinamasa and John Manguda (RBZ governor), want to print bond notes? Where did the money (US dollars) go?
“There is no law that allows them to print the bond notes. So today we want to tell Chinamasa, Mangudya and Mugabe that they must resign because they have failed,” Ngaribvume said.
Unemployed graduates who joined in the demonstration said they had decided to unite with the bond notes marchers and speak with one voice with them.
“We have started it in Harare and it’s spreading to other cities and we are going to announce our further plans soon. And since Mugabe did not come out, we are giving him an ultimatum up to August 11,’ said the group’s representative Samuel Meso.
“We realised that by uniting with others we are showing that we are one Zimbabwe and that we are affected by the same problems. If the bond notes are to come as Mugabe and his Finance minister are planning, it will actually worsen the rate of unemployment. This movement is the genesis of the exodus of Zimbabwe,” he added.
The announcement of the imminent introduction of bond notes has caused panic among Zimbabweans as it has revived memories of the 2007 and 2008 economic catastrophes which were marked by severe food shortages and hyperinflation.
Some of the prominent people who have spoken against the bond notes include former Vice President Joice Mujuru, who has likened the bond notes to “useless toilet paper” and has since approached the courts to bar the government from issuing them.
However, the government seems unperturbed by the anti-bond notes calls, with the Reserve Bank saying it is “well on track” to unveil the bond notes in October, despite public resistance. Daily News