Protests are defined as “expressions of bearing witness on behalf of an express cause by words or actions with regard to particular events, policies or situations”.
Protests are the preferred ‘nonviolent’ manner in which citizens from all walks of life have the right to express themselves. People can protest about almost anything and in most countries it is enshrined in the constitution that they are free to do this and that this right is protected. Protests are a means of showing anger, discontent for any varied reasons. So as to make protests organised there needs to be leadership that gives direction and voice to the people’s concerns. Therein lies the problem.
Zimbabwean politics has always been antagonistic. For the most part, it consists of binary viewpoints. It is either you’re with us or against us. There seems to be no middle ground for insights alternate to the dominant visions. Whenever political leaders in this country want to make a point, a show of force or support, protests (though they’ve been called other names think ‘solidarity marches’) seem to be the go to strategy. So often when people buy into a cause and especially the chosen style of expressing discontent by the leadership, they stop questioning a lot of methods especially their effectiveness.
In Zimbabwe, going back decades, the government views demonstrations – especially those called for by the opposition and Civil Society Organisations – with suspicion (often referred to as part of some ‘regime change’ agenda). Consequently, they have been met with police containment so as to prevent them from going forward. It is almost always the case that demonstrations will be met by the police who constantly respond in a heavy-handed manner. This is a given that is known to all.
Worldwide, observers have noted an increased militarisation of protest policing. People risk being killed, maimed and arrested each time they demonstrate.
Zimbabwe is no different.
When this is so obvious the question begs, why is this tactic of demonstrations still being used to push for a certain political outcome? It’s clear that it doesn’t work, it hasn’t succeeded for over 20 years of having a viable opposition in this country.
For whatever reason it’s still a preferred method of getting political messaging across, the worrying fact is that we are losing lives.
On the 1st of August 2018, following demonstrations called for by the MDC, the armed forces shot and killed at least 6 civilians and injured countless more. Again on the 14th of January 2019 following demonstrations called by the ZCTU at least 8 people were also shot and killed, many were wounded and hundreds of others jailed. This is a recurring pattern, loss of life is inevitable and yet, the toxic political strategy of demonstrations and in turn brutal repressions seems to be the preferred approach of agitating the political space.
We have, it seems, arrived at a point where people’s deaths are acceptable so long as it furthers politicians agendas. We have callous politicians on both sides who are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their political ambitions.
The abuse of citizens under the guise of ‘letting their voices be heard’ is a constant in our politics. Citizens are subjected to innumerable marches, galas, demonstrations and picketing in the hopes of furthering the cause of one party or another. Zimbabweans are dragged through endless political and economic quagmires, and citizens are desperate to live in a country that functions. That does not, however, mean that people can be treated as pawns so easily sacrificed in order to achieve political gain.
We must not perpetuate a culture and climate which dictates that in order for there to be change, it has to be preceded by the death of citizens.
Galvanising people to get onto the streets each time there is a political crisis as a means to demand and pressure for change is not working. The only tangible political capital to be achieved from this strategy are the media headlines it temporarily generates. There are no political gains from this approach and perhaps it’s time to rethink.