HARARE – The question that was being asked and debated the most by many Zimbabweans, after long-suffering citizens staged the biggest general strike ever mounted in the history of the country yesterday, was whether the unprecedented stay-away marked the beginning of the end for President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF.
So stunningly successful was the nationwide strike, that a prominent opposition figure openly admitted to the Daily News last night that he was “very envious” that ordinary Zimbabweans, working on their own and without the support of political leaders and their parties, had managed to pull off such an improbable feat.
“What happened on Monday and today (yesterday) is huge. To be honest, I’m very envious of what the povo (Portuguese word for poor, ordinary people) have achieved. Never before has this regime been rocked like this from all angles. As a result, I’m now also convinced that the end is nigh for them (Mugabe and Zanu PF),” he said.
From Harare to Bulawayo, Gweru, Mutare, Masvingo, Kwekwe, Beitbridge, Bindura, Chipinge and other smaller towns, all the major urban areas resembled haunted ghost towns as Zimbabweans heeded the social media-driven call to shut down the country for the day.
Even the normally bustling Mbare marketplace in the capital had an eerie feel to it.
Many businesses, including banks and large retail shops — particularly in high density suburbs — also closed their doors for the day, with very few commuter omnibuses on the roads to ferry travellers.
And not even the suspicious shutdown of the popular multi-platform mobile phone messaging service, WhatsApp, in the early part of the day, could shake the growing spirit of resistance sweeping the entire length and breadth of the country.
Analysts who spoke to the Daily News yesterday said not even the huge 1998 stay-away, which was led by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai when he was still in charge of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions had come close to yesterday’s general strike.
“Zimbabwe has crossed the Rubicon and there is no turning back. This shutdown marks the coming of age of the social media revolution which the government can only ignore at its peril.
“This is people power undiluted. It sets the stage for a showdown with the Zanu PF government that must lead to political change. And opposition political leaders need to move swiftly to press for much-needed reforms,” Dewa Mavhinga, a senior researcher with the New York-based Human Right Watch, said.
Tsvangirai’s MDC, which recently held its own successful demonstrations in Harare, Bulawayo and Mutare, yesterday paid tribute to Zimbabweans for finally deciding to take their destiny into their own hands.
“The people of Zimbabwe have spoken in a very peaceful but resounding manner by staging this hugely successful stay-away. The regime has been shown the red card by the people of Zimbabwe.
“Even if the collapsing Zanu PF regime might jam social media platforms such as WhatsApp etc, the inevitable is about to happen. This regime will be history very, very soon,” MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said.
Meanwhile, a local pastor, Evan Mawarire, who was among the leading proponents of the shutdown campaign, claimed yesterday that intelligence operatives were trailing him.
“Four men in suits visited my office yesterday (Tuesday) around 6pm. However, they did not say exactly what they wanted from me after they were asked what they wanted.
“But the action from the citizens is amazing. The citizens have united and spoken with one voice. We know it has sent a message to them (Mugabe and Zanu PF) already, as seen by their panic when they blocked WhatsApp.
“We know it’s them. But one day is not enough. This must be a process. It’s up to the citizens to carry this forward, and something is going to happen to carry it forward,” Mawarire told the Daily News.
Police said they had arrested 35 people, including Australian tourists, during yesterday’s stay-away, with the tourists being nabbed in Victoria Falls after being accused of taking part in demonstrations.
“15 White adults and two black adults were also arrested for carrying placards written ‘enough is enough’ and I am sure you can see a third force behind this. Some of them are from Australia but they came to demonstrate in Zimbabwe,” police spokesperson Charity Charamba said.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights later revealed that they were also attending to multiple arrests in Bulawayo, Harare, Masvingo, Victoria Falls and Zvishavane, amid reports of isolated incidents of violence.
Things turned nasty in the restive Mufakose high density suburb, historically a hotbed for political violence, when heavily-armed police stormed the streets and engaged in running battles with youths.
In response, irate residents emptied bins on the streets and lined them with rocks, resulting in police using teargas canisters and water cannons to disperse protesters. Dozens of people were injured in the skirmishers.
Harare Central Business District was deserted, with only a few people seen on the usually busy streets. Even in the posh low density suburb of Borrowdale, the Sam Levy business centre resembled a ghost town as both shoppers and diners stayed at home.
In Avondale, workers at one filling station claimed that they had been forced to open by police, after closing earlier than normal on Tuesday evening.
“Police in riot gear came early this morning (yesterday) and ordered us to open the station for the public. We had no option because they were threatening us and we obliged,” one employee said.
Banks and most shops at Chitungwiza Town Centre were mostly closed, while there was no sign of teachers and learners at most schools.
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city was affected by violence, with police fighting running battles with youths in Makokoba high density suburb.
Police also randomly assaulted people who were taking pictures of burning tyres and street barricades, with at least five youths arrested at the statue of the late Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo in the city centre after they started chanting the slogan “Mugabe Must Go”.
In Mutare, even the usually busy Sakubva flea market was empty, with only a handful of traders occupying their tables. The city centre was deserted as most shops were closed.
Schools in Dangamvura, Sakubva and Chikanga briefly opened but by 10am students had gone back home as the strike by teachers continued.
In Chipinge, the situation was tense after anti-riot police fired teargas to disperse demonstrators. MDC organising secretary for Chipinge Central district, Itai Murema, was arrested as police dispersed protesters.
Angry youths then moved to burn tyres and barricade roads.-Daily News