State violence and sadness: reflections from a Zimbabwean abroad

7 Feb 2019

 

November 2017 was a time of celebration for the citizens of Zimbabwe. The brutal Mugabe era had ended and his failing regime, a cause of continuous devastation, was finally over. 

 

Looking back at that time, I am now saddened by the feeling that the violence, devastation and faults within the country have worsened under the presidency of Emmerson Mnangagwa. We now appear to have reached a political impasse. We Zimbabweans either have to fight our way out or surrender and succumb to authoritarian rule.

 

Last month, a three-day strike was called by one of Zimbabwe’s largest trade unions (ZCTU). What was originally planned to be a peaceful demonstration over the rising prices of hard to get fuel turned into a bloody war. 

 

The waves of violence began something no Zimbawean will ever forget – we saw the lives of our women, our children, our men being squandered with reckless shootings and abuse by our very own soldiers. Soldiers who should be protectors of the people, but have instead turned into an arm of state violence. 

 

I felt a sense of disconnect knowing that I was only able find out what was happening in my country through my phone screen. I felt guilty that I was unable to be with my people at this time of crisis. So I feel that my role as a Zimbabwean abroad is not to stay silent but to make sure that the stories of my country are heard, especially since they have received so little coverage in mainstream Western media.

 

When the Minister for State Security enacted an attempted internet shutdown, it was clear that Emmerson Mnangagwa’s statement that Zimbabwe should be 'open for business’ did not extend to free speech. Sadly, a part of me wonders if the countries he deals with will even care how he treats his fellow people as long as ‘business is sorted.’  But to take away people's liberty to tell the world what is truly happening is another level of horror.   

 

I know that many claim that not all the people who took part in the protest were peaceful, and this certainly may be true.  But although I object to any kind of violence, we have to recognise the circumstances of those protesting. Imagine living all your life earning almost nothing, waiting the whole day for basic utilities, struggling to send your children to school. Finding that there is a shortage of fuel and then on top of that having the price increased may be the final straw. It is perhaps understandable that rage could lead you to push over a car. 

 

But I have seen tweets urging people to ‘be patient’. The tweets refer to Mnangagwa’s visit to Russia, and the potential that it may reap rewards in the long term.  I personally believe that in the future Zimbabwe will have a government that cares for the people or, at least, a government that is willing to make the right decisions that will benefit those truly in need.

 

But the issue I feel needs to be addressed right now is the lack of genuine communication between the government and the people.

 

If Mnangagwa’s travel abroad is genuinely intended to reap benefits for Zimbabweans, can he not break this down for the people to understand and present good and reasonable alternative measures in the meantime?

 

I recently read that Former War Veterans Minister Tshinga Dube is calling for a dialogue between the main opposition MDC alliance and Zanu PF, Zimbabwe’s ruling party.  This comes after more than a dozen civilians were reportedly shot dead by State security agents while several others were injured during last week’s violent fuel protests.

 

As much as I understand how beneficial a sit down may be for both parties, I believe that the current focus should be on ordinary people.  I try to be careful when I comment on my country, because I know that I can only partially understand the situation on the ground whilst being abroad - I accept that. But I believe that if Mnangagwa really wants support, he needs to begin treating citizens like they mean something, because they do. He needs to communicate and talk to people about the frustrations they have, what their needs are, and most importantly, gauge their ideas for potential solutions to the many issues Zimbabwe is enduring. 

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