Several reports confirm the Australian was waving placards in an anti-government demonstration. Tourists at Victoria Falls are also threatened by an absence of transport and electricity. (Both daily scheduled flights from the falls to Joburg, however, departed mid-day with only minimum delays.)
Serious protests have been growing in Zimbabwe for months and came to a head several days ago when civil servants didn’t receive their scheduled paychecks. It was the third time this year.
They organized a “stay-at-home” day for yesterday. The police reaction was so severe that protests continued into today.
WhatsApp is the principal social media platform in southern Africa, but the Zimbabwe government managed to shut it down late yesterday. Protestors immediately switched to Twitter using the hashtags #ThisFlag, #ShutDownZim, and #ShutDownZimbabwe2016. Twitter now tops its feed with instructions on how to keep using the service as government agents shut down different hashtags.
In typical reticent Zim fashion, even the protestors are being careful if coy. The five main demands being circulated are (1)-Fire corrupt cabinet ministers, (2)-Remove police road blocks, (3)-Pay civil servants on time, (4)-Abandon the bond notes and (5)-Lift the import ban.
The spark was (3)-, the lack of pay for civil servants. In this ruined country where unemployment may be approaching 80% civil servants are the last actively employed group. Until recently their loyalty to the incredibly corrupt government went unchallenged.
Demand (4)- is a complicated issue created by the Zimbabwe Reserve Bank when it announced that by October it would issue “export bond notes” in lieu of a domestic currency. Zimbabwe abandoned its domestic currency seven years ago when inflation exploded and most Zimbabweans use the U.S. dollar.
Many Zimbabweans believe the fancy named currency with its hard-to-imagine restrictions that limit it to purchasing foreign goods is simply an additional way for corrupt officials to reintroduce a local currency. As with the last domestic currency officials manipulated the notes to enrich themselves at the expense of the local population.
Last week the country tightened its ban on imports, ostensibly to spur domestic production although it’s failed miserably. The country until now has survived on goods brought in principally from South Africa, and those are now being stopped at border points.
The interesting thing, of course, is that the population as a whole will likely join the growing protests precisely because of (4)- and (5)-, which if civil servants succeed in getting paid (3)- might likely immediately be reversed.
In effect government concessions on those last three points could quash the protests.
It’s absolutely amazing how much misery Zimbabweans have accepted over the years. It’s now nearly two full generations who have lived under the oppression of Robert Mugabe. The 90+ year-old leader is reported very frail and rarely seen in public. So unfortunately his legacy has held and a body of the politic is readying to replace him.
It’s unclear this protest will do much more than previous ones, particularly if the government scrapes up the cash to pay civil servants. But it’s extremely clear that holidays in Zimbabwe are increasingly ill-advised.