turn for the worse
Back to Index
This article participates on the following special index pages:
Strikes and Protests 2007- Save Zimbabwe Campaign
March 12, 2007
View Save Zimbabwe
of images and articles
in Zimbabwe grows more brutal, and as the economy sinks deeper into
the mud, analysts usually cite a catalogue of reasons why change
in the wretched southern African country, though much-needed, is
unlikely soon. The political opposition is timid and led by men
unwilling to risk their own necks. Religious and civic leaders do
offer defiance of President Robert Mugabe’s misrule, but are unwilling
to work with their political colleagues. Ordinary people, wary of
violence and remembering civil war in the 1970s, dare not take to
the streets. Relative moderates in the ruling party will not challenge
the hardliners. And outsiders—notably South Africa next door—refuse
Now, just maybe,
something has snapped. The leader of the opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai,
an articulate, educated and stubbornly peaceful man, has long refused
to do anything that might provoke a violent crackdown. Today he
sits in police custody, described by a lawyer as beaten so badly
by his captors that he is nearly blind, prone to fainting and so
swollen "you couldn’t distinguish between the head and the
He was arrested
on Sunday March 11th, along with other opposition leaders, after
jittery police in Harare, the capital, broke up a prayer meeting
organised by various groups. Police also shot dead a young activist
at a primary school. Another detained opposition leader, Lovemore
Mudhuku, a lawyer, suffered a broken arm and head wounds. On Monday
riot police armed with shotguns, rubber batons and teargas, patrolled
the streets of Harare, enforcing a ban on any political gatherings.
But by walloping
moderate opposition leaders the police may merely open the way for
an angrier class of activists more willing to risk bloodshed. Political
tension in Zimbabwe is rising in tandem with the jobless rate (now
over 80%) and with the cost of living (hyperinflation now tops 1,700%).
Sunday’s violent protests—as well as praying, youths battled the
police and torched an army truck—were the second in a month. Hungry
and jobless young men in the townships of larger towns, especially
around Harare, are turning on police with increasing confidence.
Mr Mugabe himself rides around the small capital, an otherwise sleepy
place, with a large motorcade flanked by nervous policemen who aim
their guns at passers-by and at any motorists slow to move out of
Yet any change
probably depends more on the internal dynamics of the ruling party,
Zanu-PF, and on the attitude of South Africa. Mr Mugabe’s party
is divided along various lines. Though dominated by one broad ethnic
group, the Shona, sub-groups are vying for power once Mr Mugabe
goes. Rival camps have been formed around his possible successors.
Old hands are competing with younger men with dubious business connections,
who are eager to profit from lucrative opportunities for corruption.
The role of the army looks more and more influential. But Mr Mugabe
is a master at keeping his allies divided and thus dependent on
him. He talks of remaining as president at least until 2010.
a limited opportunity to influence what happens. America’s government
has called the police crackdown on the opposition "brutal and
unwarranted", but such Western criticism will be ignored. South
Africa may have the means to put pressure on, either through regional
institutions such as the African Union or the Southern African Development
Community, or by threatening to limit the provision of energy and
other goods to Zimbabwe.
But South Africa’s
government, fearing the eruption of violence on its northern border,
has always preferred to promote "quiet diplomacy", meaning
President Thabo Mbeki trying to cajole Mr Mugabe to go. That has
proved ineffective and now, it seems, violence is anyway increasingly
likely. A time will come when South Africa—and moderates in Zimbabwe’s
ruling party—will reckon the risk of doing nothing is greater than
the risk of trying, seriously, to get Mr Mugabe to go.
Please credit www.kubatana.net if you make use of material from this website.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.