After three weeks of turmoil it is clear that the situation Zimbabwe is experiencing is very different from what has been faced before. Reliant on the media narrative, many have come to conclusions shaped by events that have occurred in previous years. This narrative has Zanu PF as the bad guys who are in control of the army, the police and the judiciary. Zanu PF is out to suppress fuel price hike protests carried out by the good guys who are composed of opposition members, democratic activists, NGOs and the citizens. The army and police are state actors being used to carry out acts of violence against vulnerable citizens at the command of the President with whom the buck stops, as he is Head of Government. There is a problem with this narrative because the details of the story are not consistent with the headline. To see this it will require that we set aside our preconceptions based on the experiences of the past and examine the details of the events that have taken place over the last few weeks. It will be essential to look at each actor and examine the various reports emerging about them.
Let us begin by looking at reports that have emerged about the Army. The first reports that surfaced were that soldiers stormed schools in various areas instructing teachers and children to leave as they were supposed to be on Stay away. They were angry with the teachers and pupils for not observing the stay away called by the ZCTU, activists and civil society actors. Videos circulated on social media where men in civilian clothing were seen carrying AK47 rifles and shooting at rioters. Subsequently Army personnel went out to various residential areas like Mabvuku, Chitungwiza and Kuwadzana to assault people in their homes. By Tuesday January15 there were reports of army personnel patrolling the high-density areas instructing people to go out to work. Information emerged about Zanu PF youths loyal to President Mnangagwa being heavily beaten by soldiers ostensibly as punishment for supporting the President.
The police on the other hand were reported to have been leading and directing the looters after assuring protesters that they were on their side. It was said that police officers were the ones who carried out the shop break-ins for looters to gain access. Police were also dispatched to carry out assaults on people in their homes. Allegations of rape by police officers have also emerged with a number of women having been interviewed by ITV.
The behaviour that was displayed by the protesters was unprecedented in Zimbabwe’s history. The burning of police stations, tollgates and private property and the subsequent barring of response services like the fire brigade from attending to the scenes were well coordinated actions. The looting too was coordinated. Curiously in the viral video that captured the looting at High Glen Mall, the person capturing the footage was able to prevent people from entering the shop s/he was standing in front of. In the video several people are seen making an attempt to enter but they turn back once they are told to do so by the cameraperson. Would an ordinary civilian have power to control looters in that manner or would it need to be an individual with some manner of authority?
The judiciary has been criticised for usurping justice by fast tracking the trials of accused persons and not following due process. Lawyers organised a march in protest of the events taking place at the courts. Many of the arrested and those convicted are Zanu PF youths who were accused of burning property. In Bindura Former Zanu PF chairperson Dickson Mafios was recently sentenced to two years imprisonment for inciting violence. Mafios was aligned to the G40 faction during his time as a Zanu PF chairperson. The eight youths convicted for burning a bus were the Whitecliff Zanu PF Youth League chairperson and members of his executive. Civil society group Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights is representing the majority of those arrested for public violence and looting.
It is reported that many opposition members and civil society leaders and activists are in hiding fearing arrest. Opposition actors have publicly condemned the violence. However, MDC Alliance MP Godfrey Sithole was captured on video encouraging youths to continue to cause mayhem and feel free to take what they liked from the shops if they felt hungry. He said he would pay for the goods at a later time. Civil society actors are also alleged to have been involved in training youths to carry out the violent attacks witnessed during the stay away. On the other hand Zanu PF government actors including the President have also condemned the violence. The police have set up hotlines and appealed to the public to report incidences of rape and violence that have been perpetrated against them by members of the army or the police. This is in the face of reports of uniformed actors being responsible for assaults of people in their homes. Their defence is that army and police uniforms have been stolen from stores and are being used by renegade actors.
This analysis presents a more complex picture than the “Good guys, Bad guys” narrative that is being spun by media and social media actors. What is clear is that there are several groups working in concert in pursuit of one agenda. In this group we have the MDC Alliance, G40, Civil society activists, elements of the army and police, members within the current Zanu PF government and current Zanu PF, military and police structures. This consortium of actors is acting in concert in an attempt to destabilise the current government and usurp power of the current President.
Each actor is inspired by different motivations; the MDC Alliance is still in pursuit of the presidential title. As we know an alliance had already been forged with G40 prior to the election when Nelson Chamisa made this declaration at a rally on the eve of voting. Post the elections several G40 members were admitted into the ranks of the Alliance at a Tsvangirai House ceremony. Nelson Chamisa himself at the post election Bronte Hotel press conference also affirmed the MDC Alliance linkage with elements within the army and police. When asked by a reporter how he hoped the MDC could oppose a government with the army, police and intelligent services on their side, Chamisa responded that he believed they would succeed because they had their own people within the ranks of the police, army and intelligence.
The motivations of G40 players do not need a “rocket scientist” to decipher, as professor Jonathan Moyo would say. The G40 players are spoilers; they had power grabbed from them in a very humiliating way leading to the demise of individuals within the group. The last thing they would like to see is the success of a Lacoste government. It is known that there are still many G40 aligned individuals in the current government system that are in influential positions and wield a great deal of power. These individuals have access to government resources and the ability to commandeer elements within the governmental system to carry out certain actions.
The fact that the G40 faction was the preferred Zanu PF faction of the United States is well known. The over-active involvement of the United States in Zimbabwe’s internal affairs is a cause for concern especially in light of the US new Prosper Africa policy. The thrust of the policy is to thwart the rising influence of China and Russia in Africa. Zimbabwe’s current President has displayed a preference for both Russia and China during his term in office. His first state visit as President was to China. It is also not insignificant that these protests coincided with a visit to Russia and other Eastern European countries. In order to reestablish their dominance in Africa, America needs to ensure that they have governments that are well disposed to them and their interests and the Zimbabwean government is not showing such inclinations.
One of the strategies of the US Prosper Africa policy is to work through civil society organisations to advance their agenda on the African continent. John Bolton stated this when he unveiled the policy at the Heritage Foundation in December last year. It is therefore not surprising that these events have seen activists and democracy actors on the same side as Zanu PF youths and other Zanu PF actors given the common denominator of US affiliation and support. Human rights actors never before came to the aid of Zanu PF members when the judiciary and state were violating their rights; neither Temba Mliswa nor James Makamba enjoyed this privilege.
What is clear is that these actors do not want the current President in his current role. What is also clear is that their motivations are very different. Citizens are angry at the economic hardships that they are enduring and think that the MDC Alliance would do a better job of running the economy. Many of the civil society actors may have a genuine belief that they are fighting an unjust system that is violating the rights of individuals. They may be unaware that there are larger issues at stake that have little to do with the pursuit of democracy or human rights but with political interests of both internal and external players.
What is at play in Zimbabwe today is a power struggle. This is a continuation of the Zanu PF internal struggle that is supported by the United States and has roped in actors that are the traditional “good guys”. The strategy is to cause mayhem and despondency within the country and have it degenerate into chaos so that a different governing authority can take up the space. The acts of violence against the citizens and the destruction of property are not solely the acts of the Zanu PF government. They are the actions of ALL the actors in this drama because both are commandeering elements within the army and police. That is why there have been conflicting reports that some elements were supporting the stay away while others worked against it.
Zanu PF and MDC youth aligned to different factions have perpetrated violence and have had violence perpetrated against them. Violence against the citizens has been perpetrated by opposing elements within the army and police, those supporting the Zanu Pf government have done so in a bid to dissuade citizens from participating in the protests while those opposed to government have carried out violent acts against citizens in a bid to further sully the image and reputation of the government.
As citizens we must stand back and take time to analyze and examine what is taking place in our country. What has been made clear by the events of the last few weeks is that the peace we enjoy can very easily degenerate into chaos. At this time we can still trade, send our children to school on public transport, travel easily between cities.
We take all this for granted but it can all change in the blink of an eye and we will rue the days we had supermarkets to buy food from and we will miss our potholed roads if we choose the path we are heading towards. Many of us celebrated the Arab Spring when it took place and yet we now witness the devastation that is in Syria and Libya, is that what we want for Zimbabwe?
Let us be aware that we were all born Zimbabwean, none of us was born with the name of a political party emblazoned upon our heads. We must advance our country’s agenda. Neither the US, Chinese nor Russian agenda is a Zimbabwean agenda. Let us chart our own Zimbabwean agenda and ensure our children have a country that they have sole autonomy over.