High tension following arrest of civil society figures, MDC Congress

Zimbabwe security forces have cracked down hard with the arrest of seven civil society activists returning to the country from workshops in Prague and the Maldives amid rumours of violent mass protests against the government in June. Statements from newly confirmed MDC President Nelson Chamisa and from the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions promising big protests contributed to the tense atmosphere, while public patience has been severely stretched by ongoing electricity outages and skyrocketing fuel prices.

The Mnangagwa government is implementing economic policies approved by the International Monetary Fund which combine severe austerity with efforts to boost mineral exports, especially platinum, to find the hard currency to cover imports. The people have plenty to protest about.

While the recent arrests were being widely denounced, Amnesty International intervened to suspend its Zimbabwe office, declaring extensive fraud and calling in the police. This move added weight to a big suspension of grants to Civil Society organisations by USAID last year, based on similar allegations. Countering this impact, however, was the arrest of the son of Cabinet Minister Monica Mutsvangwa, allegedly caught red-handed doing illegal foreign currency trading. The Mnangagwa government is managing only faltering steps in its anti-corruption drive.

President Mnangagwa continues to initiate National Dialogue events, but the main opposition groups continue to demand that he step down before they would take part in such a dialogue. The stage is set for renewed clashes in June which will sorely test both the government and the society. The government’s allegation of foreign interference, which lies behind the arrests of the civil society activists, points to the US Congress-funded National Endowment for Democracy, which is notorious for covert interference as well as its public donations to civil society organisations.

The MDC Congress in Gweru witnessed the defeat of longstanding stalwarts in Elias Mudzuri and Douglas Mwonzora, and the return of important figures who broke from MDC in the past: Welshman Ncube, Tendai Biti and Job Sikhala.

Zimbabwe Information Centre, Australia
June 3, 2019