By Kingstone Jambawo.
PROTESTING takes a variety of forms including petitions, rallies, strikes, marches, boycotts, and a host of other symbolic actions that include picketing and rioting. Though once underway they seem to transcend the specific grievances that sparked them. 26 year old Mohamed Bouazizi Burned himself to death in front of a government building to protest against the confiscation of his vegetable vending stall. This triggered a chain of rebellions that rocked the Arab World, the Arab spring. Although the Arab Spring has so far not been replicated in any Sub Saharan African country, it can be argued that Sub Saharan Africa has had its own African Spring which swept some of its worst dictators in the 1990s. Those dictators who survived have now perfected the art of control and surveillance, making it very difficult for popular opposition movements to mobilise for a successful civil disobedience. However, conditions for a popular uprising and resistance exist in Zimbabwe, although in different forms to those that achieved the Arab Spring. Youth unemployment and poverty remains a ticking time bomb.
The internal black opposition to Rhodesia’s racial discrimination practices had been continued since the establishment of the colony and organised opposition had developed a visible, yet highly limited presence. The illegal demonstrations in African townships which always turned to riots and looting resulting in mass arrests of rioters also included the arrests of nationalist leaders. Demonstrations were the only means of expressing black political dissent. The first meaningful manifestations of Black African protests were the creation for the African Methodist Church by reverend Nemapare in 1947. Nemapare’s new church was an African revolt against the Rhodesia protest sentiments, as the student strike at Dayadaya Mission in the same year. The Dayadaya Mission strike was risky because protests movements have always been more common in cities than in rural areas due anonymity provided by urban activism which offers safety from reprisal. The revolutionaries glorified these protesters as heroes with pride and dignity, who were fighting against the arrogance of the outrageously racist, murderous and hungry land grabbing white oppressors.
This systematic repression by successive white governments prevented this type of opposition from becoming a powerful force from inside Rhodesia. For example, a person could be imprisoned for making a statement that would undermine the authority of any Rhodesian government official. Protests inside the country were impossible, and the hope that international sanctions would result in transfer of power to the majority blacks diminished after Rhodesia’s competence in evading the sanctions.
A brutal war ensued, during which protest music, known as Chimurenga music became a powerful tool for mobilisation in the political struggle. Many musicians spearheaded the Chimurenga music, however, Thomas Maputo stood out as the most prominent Chimurenga music protester. Many songs lyrics, even the lyrics of Church hymns, were changed and substituted with revolutionary ones articulating the miserable experiences of black people in Rhodesia.
Rhodesian refugees operated from Mozambique, Zambia and the Rhodesian embassies across the globe saw unrelenting protests against the racist Ian Smith’s regime. The idea was to bring immediate attention to injustices. These protests showed the world the profound abyss that existed between blacks and whites.
Zimbabwe’s first constitution was drawn up at Lancaster House in 1979.
The oppressive nature of the ZANU PF government is not dissimilar and protests in Zimbabwe are usually contained by the brutal police force whilst the authorities concede nothing. Instead the response is more threats to political freedoms, disappearances; stolen elections, economic crisis, and poverty. Political violence has been confirmed to be an important cause of refugees, and expatriates outflows from Zimbabwe.
After the elections in 1980, Matabeleland is the first scene of the first conceited protest against ZANU PF’s autocratic rule. Gukurahundi was to follow. Success of rural protests is still non-existent in Zimbabwe simply because it is difficult for protesters to coordinate their action and easier for government to supress them without fear of offending national or international opinion.
Over the course of the 1990s, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) became the focus of opposition to Mugabe’s ZANU PF government. Unpopular polices and the announcement of pay increases for Mugabe and his ZANU PF inner circle prompted rioting in 1998 coming as it did amidst a growing economic crisis. However given this colonial and the post-colonial history, it is not easy to demonstrate that organised peaceful civil rebellion is effective.
Zimbabwe Diaspora Protests
Whilst the Arab Spring has demonstrated the efficacy of people power to effect political change, is it the way to go? Considering that the ZANU PF government is inclined on repressing or ignore any peaceful protests, we have to ask ourselves if peaceful protests are really an effective means of political change in Zimbabwe. Some may already be imagining that a forceful violent rebellion, an Arab Spring, would be much more effective in combating this authoritarian regime than peaceful protests and disobedience, but it would appear that the opposite is actually the case. There is no doubt about that.
But firstly let’s look at the history of protests from diaspora. Unlike other African migrant communities, with much longer history of post-colonial migration to Western counties such as the Congolese and Nigerians, Zimbabweans have not been able to come together in sufficient numbers to establish social organisations representing their interests and others at home until the year 2000. Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are playing an enlightening role on mobilising people for both elections and in protest movements. They are often credited with promoting democracy at the local level by encouraging political engagement, educating voters, and by strengthening the capacity of democratic institutions through advice and training.
Social and political change is not just about some distant goal but just as much about the method and the way to get there. Understanding this, sets the Zimbabwean diaspora activities apart from the more traditional revolutionary groups of Southern Africa in both past and present, which have often proceeded from a ready-made theory on where to go and how to get there. The evolution of social movements has brought the diaspora closer to home.
It is clear that NGOs have played a crucial role in mobilising and organising political protests movements in and outside Zimbabwe. In recent years, organisations such as the UK based Zimbabwe Human Rights Organisation (ZHRO) have taken up the challenge of organising the Zimbabweans who are dispersed across the UK into a formidable group that can effectively participate in various activism activities and engage in Zimbabwean political processes back home.
First, protests are judged by their organisational outcomes.
- Have they had a measurable effect on the political system?
- Have the grievances been clearly articulated and are they likely to be resolved?
- What can one person (Pastor Evan) really do?
- In other words, have the protests been successful?
- Can a nonviolent protest from diaspora be considered as a solution to the myriad of problems faced by Zimbabweans?
Then the success is measured either against an external yardstick such as
- Expectations of democratisation, or
- Against the purpose of the protest.
The ZANU PF government apparently felt threated in 2016. Nonetheless, we seem to be having varying responses, heavy handed reactions from the government, increasing social inequality, conflicts, and competition between the political elites,
- G40 vs Lacoste,
- MDC splits,
- Eruption of many tiny political parties which in turn has angered the growing activist networks.
Although marginalised, the diaspora have new ideas. When looking at this political situation in Zimbabwe, it is fair to say it sometimes make people feel hopeless, powerless and despondent. It seems like Zimbabweans are sleepwalking into abyss with protests on the ground being driven by anger. Even if a violent protest was to be successful, it has a potential of creating a lot of long-term problems that we see today.
The liberation struggle, the fact that in 2004, the USA voted for a black president after years of civil rights protests and the 1994 transition of South Africa to a majority rule government all attest to the fact that peaceful civil rebellion is effective. In all three cases the main campaigns that brought about these radical changes were generally, though not entirely, peaceful and characterised by a desire for peace and reconciliation by the protest groups. In some cases, rather than a regime change, protests may strengthen political conviction and re-energise a citizen’s interest in politics, which in itself is a form of success. Policymakers may also incline to vote for policies that are in line with the protesters demands in fear of being affected in their constituencies. Political scientists have found that non-violent campaigns are more successful than violent ones; in fact the success rate of non-violent protests is increasing whilst the violent ones are on the decrease. Non-violent revolutions tend to encourage democratic solutions, whereas the use of force, no matter its driving ideals, is all about legitimising the dictator’s remaining in power through force. Thus, in the case of Zimbabwe, it’s not hard to see how the victorious contributors of liberation war would end up keeping power primarily through force/violence almost four decades on.
Edward Murota who has taken part on a recent walk protest pleaded with Zimbabweans to take decisive action:
We are now calling for a peaceful revolution against this repressive violent regime which has caused a lot of suffering in our lives He said
Refugees in particular, who have exited Zimbabwe because of a direct experience of persecution or political violence, say we have strong reasons to oppose the ZANU PF regime from which we have fled. However, although these refugees are of course victims of ZANU PF violence, they are also prime targets for recruitment into the opposition political parties and involvement in activism. They therefore have unconsciously become profoundly critical of the ZANU PF regime and religiously follow political events back home. Moreover, these are furious people, who have been forced to leave their families and are now deliberately isolated.
The negative should not detract us from the legitimate humanitarian concerns that grip our nation and those that the Zimbabwean diaspora, refugees or immigration entails. Zimbabwean refugees are rightly characterised as victims, however, we are not passive actors. Rather we can and do participate in political activism in host nations and send our messages via social media. We have seen Zimbabweans protest in New York, SA and here in UK we are the protesting. Said Phyllis Melody Magejo
Protesters Explain Their Personal Stories Behind Their Poignant ZHRO 105km #WalkForFreedom
The purpose of this section is to provide a detailed account of the Zimbabwe protest wave that take seriously the experiences and perceptions of the participants. These voices from exile reflected in these narratives are even more compelling against a background of understanding ZANU PF’s intolerance, Zimbabwean refugees, diaspora conditions, reliance on each other, and the thirst of retuning to a functioning democratic Zimbabwe.
The protests that are being organised by ZHRO have been gaining size and momentum driven by raising money for charity and highlighting Zimbabwe’s human rights record. Although the contest between a small group and a powerful authoritarian regime is unequal, the groups can use their flexibility and numbers to defeat this oppressor. Protests should be able to remind the Zimbabwe authorities of their role as the servants of the people. ZANU PF is authoritarian by nature so it is the hope that these protests may remind them to curtail their autocratic tendencies. A civic revolt provides a rallying point for the excluded diaspora whose exclusion from conventional politics, at home and abroad is a disgruntlement.
These activists came together on the 18 of August 2017 to take part in 105km #WalkForFreedom to highlight the ZANU PF government’s record on human rights. The Protesters wore white T-Shirts that proclaimed in red block letters #WalkForFreedom
The common theme was that freedom is achieved through sacrifice. One protester said she was motivated by the anger of having to seek refuge in other people’s countries
Whilst there are many politically focussed Zimbabwean organisations in UK, ZHRO is a humanitarian group that is dedicated to helping us Zimbabwean diaspora to survive, settle and integrate in the UK and raising consciousness about Zimbabwe and we are grateful for that. Said Melody
The walkers are imploring every Zimbabwean to begin taking action by peaceful protests and supporting progressive causes.
Although the 105km #WalkForFreedom was enormously difficult and a courageous thing to do, it was a more realisable political protest activity given the setting and challenges to stage it. The electoral reform debacle which has also resulted into mistrusting our government has fuelled my resolve to demand democracy. Said Salome Nkiwane.
The narratives highlighted here reveal the vulnerability, fragility, and the strengths of a united diaspora family who seem particularly driven by a desire to see the back of ZANU PF. Walking, inspired by the 2016 political awakening. The protest walk was full of characters taking decisive actions, determining their and others destinies. Many have a host of reasons for marching.
“Although this walk was about raising money for charity, it was also a form of political protest against the despotic Mugabe regime, a shared experience with others, physical health benefits and as a way of understanding the world around us. On top of offering direct cardiovascular benefits, walking can help to reduce anxiety and tension. Most of all, it was a personal sacrifice to raise money and awareness, to achieve freedom and I feel the pain was worth it said Salome
Rashiwe Bayisai who plans to continue with a series of shot walks in preparation for next year’s event told Voice Of America (VOA) that the Zimbabwean diaspora need to wake up. She explained how every Zimbabwean is affected by non-political participation. The said the increasing intolerance and suppression of freedom of expression impacts on the liberties of all Zimbabweans.
The human rights protests from here will indicate to the Zimbabwean citizens at home and in other parts of the world that they are not alone in their opposition to the ZANU PF Government and that, if they protest, others are likely to protest as well. There are also signs that the government is likely to repress any protests that may arise there, they will be short-lived so lets get going from diaspora She said
Sometimes the demand for protest can be so overwhelming that very little is needed to bring large numbers onto the streets. Mobilization with minimal organisation has become more effective with the appearance of virtual networks and social media. Anyone interested in human behaviour would be remiss to ignore the lessons the Ice Bucket Challenge has taught us about how to create a viral and powerful, albeit imperfect, movement. Any sociopsychological account of protests has to attend to both the characteristics of society and its government that evoke the protests, grievances that induce a communal sense of repulsion and indignation. The conditions that that have triggered protests fall into various categories:
- Mugabe must go
- The economic decline
- The introductions of laws and practices that further marginalise the already marginalised
- Refusal of introducing new laws that govern the electoral system
- A growing sense of the illegitimacy of the government
- A feeling of empowerment inspired by the freedom enjoyed elsewhere
A protest might not be persuasive in and of itself, however it does invite persuasion. They invite natural change. The media, bystanders, and politicians themselves notice when a protest event happens. When a protest is staged well, it will always invariably make people look at the causes with new eyes.
The reasons for protesting from another country are obvious. Far too often protests in Zimbabwe have been treated as a rule of law problem rather than an integral component of democratic participation. One would expect something unpleasant happening right from the start if it were in Zimbabwe. The protesters would expect the police to flex their muscles and within minutes the whole thing would be over. Despite constitutional guarantees of freedom of assembly, protests are simply rendered illegal and are disturbingly responded to using brutal force and physical abuse by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) followed by arrests, detentions, and intimidation to stop the protest.
We did a protest walk in UK because it’s safe for us here. ln Zimbabwean you face the police brutality, torture, or you end up disappearing. Here in UK we can quickly use the media, Facebook to spread our activism. Also UK has freedom of speech and Democracy” – Maruwiza Nkhambala
Such manifest of intolerance is what drives us to be defiant and do whatever it takes to have our voices heard from abroad. Here in the UK, we are able to freely speak out against injustices to whoever is willing to listen.
Yes in Zimbabwe they are abusing our human rights. You can’t say anything. If you open your Mouth, like Evan Mawarire did, the president himself, he said you are not a Zimbabwean. You are sent by white people. SO we are better off expressing our feelings and speak loudly from abroad (UK) – Maruwiza
Although protest activity against our government may take place more broadly, proximity to the target is important, however, in addition to the rise of social media, it is also important to look at the host nations’ conditions under which the activists utilise. For example, as in many cases, citizens from the host nations like the U.K. may provide resources, training opportunities, and logistical support to activists.
The extent of the coverage of the Zimbabwean crisis in the social media demonstrates how visible and epistemic members of the diaspora use their positions outside Zimbabwe to influence what is happening within.
The Zimbabwean government has developed a renewed political paranoia towards both the West and Zimbabwean diaspora. The majority of the Diasporas, particularly refugees also contribute to opposition politics activities.
Although the Mugabe regime may monitor our activities here, they cannot directly repressive the diaspora because we are not within Zimbabwe’s political jurisdiction. – Edward
Alfredy Mukuvare’s narrative conveys his strong faith and belief in God and his reliance on praying to be provided with the strength to continue to struggle for the freedom of Zimbabweans.
“I noted every landmark as we progressed on the walk; the pain which I had to endure reminded me that this will not be in vain.The cheers from passer-by and the questions asked by those we met. The responses given and the nodding of heads by passer byes gave me hope that my walk was going to raise awareness to people on the dire situation in Zimbabwe. The determination of those who were with me even the pain on their faces did not deter them to continue the walk. Said Alfredy
The route ran from Brighton Pier to Kempton through several rest stops. There was no shorter route and the group had to remain together for the duration of the walk as recommended by the organisers.
The walkers demonstrated at Devils Dyke along the march route. The organisers displayed innovative characters and dynamic flexibility in attending to the protesters needs as the protest walk unfolded. Protesters used music, dance, and a bit of comedy to liven up the walk and all was caught on a drone video showing the protesters on the trail. The public joined in and enjoyed the humorous atmosphere.
“My freedom is as important as of those who maim and kill. Holding a public demonstration was our way of helping to educate the public about issues that are affecting Zimbabweans which might allow our supporters to act and speak their opinions on our behalf. Many Zimbabwean diaspora activists have found form in ZHRO to help the democratisation process back home through lobbying for human rights said Edward
“My walk was a feat of endurance. I was very anxious at the beginning and personally I was confronting my own challenges including health & for the #WalkForFreedom by participating. Once I set up a rhythm & focused my mind over matter, I went much further than I had practised for” said Mable Kayiya
I still remember dragging my feet up to the 40 kilometre point. As I took the break I looked at the agony on the faces of people but the determination was encouraging. As I thought and looking around I had faith that with the spirit I was witnessing, the camaraderie we had fostered here our fight for freedom, peace, justice, human dignity and an equal society in Zimbabwe will happen. – Alfredy
There was a clear alignment of citizenship and sacrifices heightened by the hardships of being a refugee in a country that is no longer so welcoming from the stories told by the walkers.
“My 105km walk was not easy. It was a struggle and yes the struggle is real at home and abroad. But as a Zimbabwean born, l am fighting for my freedom. I didn’t give up from all the way from Brighton to Guildford but it was a painful journey l have ever experience in my life. I developed blisters all over my feet and my legs where painful. On my sleep l couldn’t turn because of the pain. But even after that pain it couldn’t stop me to fight for my freedom. Till now l’m not going to lose hope until we get our freedom in my homeland Zimbabwe. Said Maruwiza Nkhambala
We kept walking with our Zimbabwe flags draped around our bodies, winding through English villages that had never seen a protest march before.
“Unfortunately I started limping way before the Christ Hospital (Downs Link) stretch but endured for a few hours more. I was right at the front leading at some point but watched almost everyone pass me by as my pace considerably slowed down due to injury. All the while I thought of what my fellow Zimbabwe are having to endure under the Mugabe regime just to survive another day and this urged me on. Whilst nursing my injuries at one of the bases, only then did I learn I had blisters“- Mable
The last lap was full of challenges, exhaustion, cold, mosquitos as narrated by Salome. Even the mobile phone reception was very difficult.
As I resumed from the 40 kilometre looking at those with injuries still determined to carry on I knew uhuru will happen. As we followed the Dawson Link with its rich historical heritage, fabulous fauna and flora I became more determined especially the encouragement I got from those I met on the way. My faith was captivated by this. This is despite my legs being worn out, injured, tired and failing even to jump little puddles on the way. As I walked in the glare of darkness urging one another to carry on that friendship gave me hope that all this showed the world we will not give up our hope for a fair and just Zimbabwe.
In many cases walking is key to the radical activity, allowing people to advocate for reform by expressing the need for social, political and economic change.
As I walked along the river limping like an injured rabbit I thought of the suffering of my people, for those who had disappeared without trace like Itai Dzamara, Rashiwe Guzha to mention a few. At the 70 kilometre peg when I could not lift myself and my friends lifted me up. I was overwhelmed with emotions and shed tears to the suffering million Zimbabweans. The fight continues I will not rest till we have achieved democracy in our motherland” – Alfredy.
Walking allows radicals, whether self-acknowledged or not, to cross boundaries, challenge customs, redefine urban spaces and physically express their opposition and beliefs.
“This walk was has been a learning experience for me. It’s not about where you are, but what you can do to unite with the people back home to bring about awareness about the situation back home. You know freedom of speech back home is punishable by violence but where I am at the moment I have that freedom to speak against the Zimbabwean government and I intend to use the opportunity I have. We long for a better Zimbabwe and if there is anything that can help bring awareness to the world about the situation back home then I will be part of that. This walk was my way of showing the pain and endurance the people of Zimbabwe are going through. Some of you might think it is not worth it but to me all I know is I am doing something said Sibongile Kadzima.
You have to keep reminding yourself that you are protesting against the injustices that have driven you out of your country.
“The situation in Zimbabwe and among us Zimbabweans forced me to take this challenge up.I needed to feel myself pushing my limits for the love of a people in such dire straits every day is a feat of endurance. I did it for myself too, shackles on my feet had to be loosed. I did it to raise awareness and funds of the Zimbabwe diaspora plight many are oblivious to.It felt good and right” – Mable.
The link between peace and human rights movement was particularly visible on arrival at ZimFest which comprised of mainly Zimbabwean audience. This victory was important in invigorating demands for freedom in Zimbabwe at this annual event that attract many Zimbabwean diaspora in the U.K. The public outcry in support of the walk team noticeably increased when the walkers were being presented with medals on the ZimFest stage.
Whilst some may have dismissed us as desperadoes, the positive response from the majority of Zimbabwean diaspora at the ZimFest and those at home was overwhelming Melody
Some Zimbabwean Immigrants say, I’m not like those people.
The historical links between Zimbabwe and United Kingdom have made this an obvious channel for refugees, skilled, and non-skilled migrants leaving the country. Alice Bloch, JoAnne McGregor and Dominic Pasuwa who examined different aspects of Zimbabweans diaspora experiences in the U.K. found that 72% definitely want to return home. The Only 6% who did not want to return had lived in the U.K. longer and had more secure immigration status. Bloch also explored whether the Zimbabwean diaspora in U.K. would consider participating in developmental activities in Zimbabwe. Only 6% said they were definitely not interested. Sadly this minority distance themselves from being Zimbabwean and prefer to call themselves South Africans, and bizarrely some even call themselves Jamaicans.
Whilst protests give protesters/activists/like-minded individuals a chance to meet, network, swap ideas, build community, and promote a sense of solidarity, it is perhaps not surprising to see that some of the Zimbabwean population in U.K. avoid activist politics. Even when living under the worst of circumstances, most Zimbabweans are not politically motivated or mobilised. Moreover as refugees, this Zimbabwean diaspora group have far more pressing problems, yet they are far removed from the concerns of the political situation back home. Even more important, however, is the concern among the Zimbabwean diaspora that active involvement in politics and activism would hamper their much valued integration in the U.K. I’m not like those people. Whilst these protests do not infringe on the British hospitality, perhaps they are worried about being vilified as western puppets, or to be seen as trying to incite those back home to protest against persecution and the unfair electoral policies.
Whatever the reasons maybe, the reality is that every Zimbabwean diaspora is directly or indirectly affected by the events back home. These deplorable slackers need to realise that decisions are made by those who show up. If you don’t participate you must be content to be governed by those who do. We should unite in campaigning for the greater good of our nation. The decision to protest requires not only that people experience outrage but that they also feel entitled to act on their outrage. One important determinant of a person standing to protest an injustice is the extent to which he or she is materially affected by it which many are. The more one is materially affected by the source of outrage, the more standing one has to protest. When people lack a material stake in an issue, they can nonetheless feel that they have the standing to protests if they observe other no vested individuals protesting or if they perceive themselves as having a moral stake in the issue. Having a personal characteristic or history that justifies to others why one feels such outrage can also provide one with standing. Not just any connections to an issue will suffice, however, having committed a particular transgression in the past or simply being a member of a group that has committed or continue to commit that transgression is also a driver.
The money raised is used for legal requirements for Zimbabwean refugees, asylum seekers, and funding activists activities at home and in UK.
Among the photograph stories published on ZHRO’s Facebook page is a collection of powerful brief stories. Reading these stories, there is no question that the Zimbabwe diaspora in U.K. feel, denigrated, devalued and marginalised. This could be one of the reasons why Zimbabweans intensely follow the political events back home, however, there are some who try to coop by abandoning their Zimbabweaness, and the walkers are certainly not among them.
The hope is that this symbolic gesture would encourage others to speak up for their rights and that it is actually easier when you are not in Zimbabwe. Whilst the ZANU PF government continues to ill-treat citizens, as well as encouraging community work, ZHRO remains a strong symbol for activism and self-determination and a rallying point for various activism activities for Zimbabwean activists.
Although Zimbabwe has held regular elections since 1980, transition to democracy is far off, political parties are weak and inconsistent, accusations of fraud are common, and corruption is pervasive. Public confidence in elections is low, and in many rural constituencies there is little or no real political competition.
Looking beyond 2018 elections, calling for democracy and raising human rights awareness is probably the starting point for levelling the political playing field. The Diaspora know that they are responsible for keeping the economy afloat by remittances of the hard earned cash obtained through working long hours. This has also influenced many to try and change the politics at home which they believe may allow them to rest. Lobbying and raising awareness from the diaspora has many advantages that include raising support resources for the opposition, activist groups, and individual activists.
While analysts and policy makers have expected a lot from the Zimbabwean diaspora in terms of remittances and investment, what has been often forgotten is that the majority of the Zimbabwean diaspora are economically vulnerable living on the margins of poverty. Many of them are not only on low wage employment, but are also unemployed such that they have to rely on the benevolence of fellow migrants to survive. These Zimbabweans, therefore have very little to remit even to their families back home.
Finally, walking can be used as a tool to challenge ideas and preconceptions, such as those about violent protests. ZHRO plans to make the walk a yearly radical activity to allow the Zimbabwean activists to physically express their views.
The activists that I have profiled here are all making preparations for next year’s #WalkForFreedom event with many determined to finish the whole instalment.
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