The MDC Alliance and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions late last week called for a “stay-away” of two, three and five days this week to peacefully demonstrate to the ZANU-PF Mnangagwa government that its economic policies had to change – mainly relating to fuel shortages, the use of Bond Notes and the need to pay workers in US dollars. Published calls emphasised “NO VIOLENCE”.
This call followed an attempt by MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa to call mass protest rallies on November 29, 2018. It turned into a small rally and march, which presented a petition to parliament.
However, unidentified men, some armed with AK-47s - emerged on Monday morning in Harare, Bulawayo and several other cities to attack bus drivers and shop keepers who turned up for work as usual. Some supermarkets have been looted and burnt, the police station in the satellite township of Chitungwiza is reported to have been burnt, and there are reports of police attacks on civilians in Epworth, the poor area on the edge of Harare. There are less-confirmed reports that the MDC headquarters building in Harare has been set on fire. There have been calls on social media to shutdown private schools.
The announcement on Saturday by President Mnangagwa that fuel taxes would be hugely increased – taking petrol from US$1.24 to US$3.31 per litre – to curb corruption of the fuel market – was a shock to the public, and added to the sense of crisis across the country. Worse, the President departed for Eastern Europe, Russia and the Davos World Economic Forum the same day. The WEF concludes on January 25, meaning the President and his senior Ministers will be out of the country for over two weeks. Meanwhile, Vice President Chiwenga is Acting President.
The use of violence to try to enforce a stay-away and to destabilise the government demonstrates that this is not a grassroots movement, no matter that the people are hugely frustrated at their economic plight. It is more suggestive of an ongoing effort by deposed dictator Mugabe to bring down his nemesis, and that the MDC Alliance is a willing partner.
According to the Constitution of the Movement for Democratic Change – not the Alliance – there must be an Extraordinary Congress within one year of the death of the party president to elect a new President, and that year is up on February 14, 2019. Nelson Chamisa has been insisting that the Congress not take place, but many elements of MDC are equally determined to restore democratic processes in the party. Chamisa badly needs ‘success’ with mass protests to succeed in his effort to sideline the party constitution.
President Mnangagwa is under pressure to cancel his trip in order to address the calamity at home.
Zimbabwe Information Centre
Sydney, Australia, January 15, 2019